Shuttle Endeavour Makes Nighttime Landing

U.S. space shuttle Endeavour arrived back on Earth after a two-week mission to install the 16-ton "Tranquility" node and its attendant cupola on the International Space Station, which will give the facility's crew more docking space for vehicles. The cupola includes windows for a sweeping view of Earth, the better for crew to manipulate a robotic arm used to help dock craft heading for the station. Endeavour's was one of the few remaining missions before NASA plans on mothballing its shuttles by the end of the year.

The shuttle Endeavour made a rare nighttime landing at Kennedy Space Center Feb. 21, touching down at 10:20 pm EST. The vehicle's six-member crew had successfully completed a two-week mission to install the last major component of the International Space Station, undocking from that orbital facility Feb. 19.

It took three spacewalks for the crew to install the 16-ton "Tranquility" node, which provides additional docking for shuttles and crew vehicles, and its attendant cupola, whose seven windows provide widescreen views of the Earth far below. Station crew will be able to utilize that extra viewing room to better handle the station's robotic arm, which will be used to help guide vehicles heading for Tranquility into the docking ports.

NASA had originally opened the naming of the Tranquility node to the general public, via an online poll. Despite a massive number of votes to name the node "Colbert," after comedian Stephen Colbert, and a large number of votes for "Serenity," NASA exercised its prerogative to do its own naming and chose "Tranquility," after the Sea of Tranquility lunar plain where Apollo 11 landed. In a sort of consolation prize, NASA named Tranquility's exercise treadmill C.O.L.B.E.R.T, for Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill.

"The public did a fantastic job and surprised us with the quality and volume of the suggestions," Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for Space Operations, wrote in a statement following the contest's conclusion in March 2009. "Apollo 11 landed on the moon at the Sea of Tranquility 40 years ago this July. We selected -Tranquility' because it ties it to exploration and the moon, and symbolizes the spirit of international cooperation embodied by the space station."

The outsized spike in votes for "Serenity" could be attributed to fans of the now-canceled television show "Firefly," which featured a spaceship of that name.

With the Tranquility node installed, the International Space Station is now reportedly 90 percent complete. Endeavour's mission also represented another milestone, being one of the last shuttle flights before the U.S. government mothballs the program by the end of the year. Before that point is reached, the shuttles will transport additional equipment and supplies to the facility.

Editor's Note: A date in this story was corrected.