Space shuttle Endeavour lands at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral

Endeavour shuttle lands after its final flight

The Endeavour space shuttle has returned to Earth after its final mission to the International Space Station.

Endeavour and its six astronauts touched down on the runway at the Kennedy Space Center on Nasa's next-to-last shuttle flight in its 30-year program.

Commander Scott Kelly, a four-time shuttle veteran, eased the 100t spaceship onto the runway in a safe night-time landing to complete Endeavour's 25th and final flight.

"One-hundred-and-twenty-two million miles flown during 25 challenging spaceflights," astronaut Barry Wilmore radioed to Kelly from Nasa's Mission Control in Houston.

"Your landing ends a vibrant legacy for this amazing vehicle that will long be remembered. Welcome home, Endeavour."

"It really is an incredible ship," Kelly said. 

"It's sad to see her land for the last time but she really has a great legacy."

Endeavour will now be prepared to be put on display at the California Science Center in Los Angeles.

Nasa sister ship Atlantis, which was rolled out to the shuttle's seaside launch pad as Endeavour headed back to Earth, is now preparing to launch next month as Nasa's final shuttle mission.

The United States is retiring its three-ship fleet due to high operating costs and to free up funds to develop new spacecraft that can travel beyond the space station's 220-mile-high orbit.

The Discovery space shuttle returned from its final voyage in March.

The primary goal of Endeavour's flight, the 134th in shuttle program history, was to deliver the $2bn Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer particle detector and a pallet of spare parts to the station.

The crew also made four spacewalks to complete assembly of the US side of the $100bn outpost, a project of 16 nations that has been under construction since 1998.

The last piece to be installed was the shuttle's 50ft-long inspection boom, which will now be used to extend the reach of the station's robotic crane.

Kelly and his crew mates - pilot Greg Johnson, flight engineer Roberto Vittori with the Italian Space Agency, and spacewalkers Drew Feustel, Mike Fincke and Greg Chamitoff - also tested a new automated rendezvous system that Nasa plans to use on its next spaceship and on a new robotic science mission to an asteroid.

It will be at least four years before Nasa astronauts can fly out of the United States again. Until new ships are ready, Russia will transport crews to the station at a cost of more than $50m per person.

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