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Shuttle Lands in California

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - Space shuttle Atlantis and seven astronauts touched down Sunday morning in California to end a heralded final mission to upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope.

"Welcome home, Atlantis," NASA mission controller Gregory Johnson said after the shuttle rolled to a stop at Edwards Air Force Base at 11:39 a.m. EDT. "Congratulations on a very successful mission, giving Hubble a new set of eyes that will continue to expand our knowledge of the universe."

"It was a thrill from start to finish," replied Atlantis commander Scott Altman. "We've had a great ride."

Altman was joined in the 34-year-old spaceship by pilot Greg Johnson and mission specialists Andrew Feustel, Michael Good, John Grunsfeld, Michael Massimino and Megan McArthur.

The landing capped a three-day effort to bring Atlantis home, with NASA opting to bypass Kennedy Space Center again because of clouds and thunderstorms lingering in the area.

With the shuttle fleet slated for retirement after eight more flights, Atlantis' 13-day mission was the last by astronauts to the observatory orbiting 350 miles above Earth.

The crew launched from KSC on May 11 and two days later snared the four-story Hubble and fastened it to the shuttle's payload bay.

During five back-to-back spacewalks, two pairs of astronauts left the telescope in the best condition of its 19-year life, but not without a struggle.

They installed two state-of-the-art science instruments and repaired two more, overcoming stuck latches and a stripped screw.

The crew also outfitted Hubble with its first fresh batteries in 19 years, and new gyroscopes, navigation sensors and protective blankets, all of which should add at least five more years to Hubble's life and allow it to peer deeper into the universe.

After a weeklong stay with Hubble, McArthur, Atlantis' mission specialist, released it from the shuttle's robotic arm for the last time Tuesday.

NASA expects to release the first images from the refurbished observatory as early as August, after calibrating and testing its instruments.

Sunday's landing was the 53rd at Edwards, and the second there in the last three missions.

Atlantis completed the second shuttle mission of 2009 and the 126th ever.

NASA hopes to launch shuttle Endeavour to the International Space Station on June 13.

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