Space shuttle Discovery's astronauts came home from an eight-day "Star Wars" research mission with what the Pentagon said was a wealth of data that could help scientists design a missile defense system.

"We're elated," Air Force Col. John Armstrong, deputy mission director, said of the flight that ended Monday with a rare landing in Florida.High winds at the shuttle's usual landing site in California's Mojave Desert forced Discovery to travel across the continent and land where the mission began, at Cape Canaveral, Fla. A tire shredded during the landing.

Technical glitches had dogged the mission, during which the seven-member crew still managed to conduct a rich variety of tests.

"It seemed like they kept throwing us curve balls and we kept hitting them out of the ballpark," Commander Michael Coats said Monday night upon the crew's return to Houston.

The crew released a $94 million satellite to study exhaust from the shuttle as Discovery executed unprecedented twists and turns. The satellite also gathered data on chemical and gas releases before it was retrieved by the crew.

The astronauts also captured brilliant images of atmospheric light, or aurora, and collected other scientific information that could help the Pentagon develop a system for recognizing and destroying enemy missiles.

Armstrong said the research "promises to be a giant step forward" for the Strategic Defense Initiative, or "Star Wars" Wars program.

Before blastoff, NASA said the flight was the most complex mission ever because of its ambitious schedule.