Atlantis crew met with blue sky, feast

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. —Space shuttle Atlantis and its seven astronauts returned to Earth with a smooth touchdown Friday to end an "amazing" flight that resupplied the International Space Station.

Within a few hours of landing, the astronauts feasted on turkey and trimmings with their families.

"You go see the doc, you get a turkey dinner. It's a pain," commander Charles Hobaugh told reporters with a smile.

The new father on the crew, Randolph Bresnik, bolted out of NASA's spaceport when the meal was over. He flew home to Houston a day ahead of his crewmates so he could see his newborn daughter and wife, who gave birth Saturday.

With bright sunlight glinting off it, the shuttle swooped through a clear sky and landed right on time. Mission Control said no one could remember such welcoming conditions: No clouds and temperatures in the 50s.

"Couldn't have picked a clearer day," Hobaugh said during the final approach. Mission Control congratulated him on a "picture perfect" touchdown.

"We really had truly an amazing mission," Hobaugh said after exiting Atlantis. The description was later repeated by NASA managers happy to cap off a year of five successful shuttle missions.

It was an especially sweet homecoming for two of the crew: Bresnik, whose second child, Abigail Mae, was born after his first spacewalk, and Nicole Stott, who was away for three months at the space station.

Stott said she felt a little wobbly because of the tug of Earth's gravity, but was thrilled to be with her husband and 7-year-old son.

Hobaugh and his crew spent a week stockpiling the space station. They delivered big spare parts and performed three spacewalks to install equipment and carry out maintenance.

The pumps, gyroscopes and storage tanks should keep the outpost in business for another five to 10 years, long after Atlantis and the two other shuttles are retired.

"We're kind of superstitious in a way and we don't talk too much about when things are going really good," Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's space operations chief, said. But with Atlantis safely back, he declared, "This has been a great year for us."

This was Atlantis' next-to-last mission. Only five shuttle flights remain, all to the space station next year.