The space shuttle Columbia made a perfect landing Monday on a desert runway lit with the power of millions of Christmas tree lights.
The landing area was bathed in the equivalent of daylight as high powered arc lights showed Columbia the way home.The night landing, a day sooner than planned, capped a nine-day emotional roller-coaster ride for the seven astronauts on board.
They had experienced the frustration of failed computers, the jubilation of never-before-achieved astronomy sightings and the embarrassing blockage of the craft's sewer system.
But Dr. William Lenoir told a press conference shortly after the landing the mission had been a "resounding success."
The major objectives - the study of the effects of prolonged weightlessness on the astronauts and the study of X-rays and ultraviolet rays emanating from celestial bodies - had been achieved despite the "glitches," he said.
As the 225,000-pound craft's nose gear touched down at 9.54 p.m. PST (12.54 a.m. EST), signaling their successful return to earth, the set-backs were, for the moment at least, set aside.
"Columbia, welcome home. A beautiful landing, an outstanding job," ground controller Mike Baker told the crew.
A few minutes later, however, shuttle commander Vance Brand thanked the mission controllers in Houston for their help during the trouble-plagued mission.
"The crew would like to thank you all for a great job through all our (equipment) failures, for recovering everything for us."