By Arun Kumar, IANS
Washington : Indian American astronaut Sunita Williams returned home after a 195-day record space odyssey with Space shuttle Atlantis making a smooth and safe landing at Edwards Air Force Base, California.
The shuttle with Williams and six fellow astronauts bringing her back from the International Space Station landed in California at 3:49 p.m. Friday (1:19 a.m. IST Saturday) after aborting a bid to land at the Kennedy Space Centre, Florida due to bad weather.
Landing of Atlantis marked the end of a record-setting space flight by Suni Williams lasting 194 days, 18 hours and 58 minutes. On June 16, she had surpassed US astronaut Shannon Lucid's 188-day 4-hour mark set on a mission to the Russian Mir space station in 1996.
On her very first space journey, Sunita with four excursions spread over 29 hours and 17 minutes also broke the record for most space walks by a woman.
"Welcome back. Congratulations on a great mission," astronaut Tony Antonelli radioed Atlantis commander Frederick Sturckow from US space agency NASA's Mission Control in Houston as the spaceship's parachute billowed out in the thin desert air.
"It is great and wonderful to see all of them come back home safely," Sunita 's father Dr Deepak Pandya said after the landing.
"We all are holding our breath today," Pandya said earlier from New Jersey as his wife Bonnie and daughter Dina awaited Sunita's return at Houston. One of his nephews too has come from India to watch the landing.
Sunita's family and the world at large had prayed for her safe return as the first Indian American astronaut Kalpana Chawala had perished with six other astronauts in the 2003Columbia disaster.
Mission Control had hoped skies would clear for one of two landing opportunities on Friday at the Kennedy Space Centre, the shuttle's home port, but dense clouds and rain prevented that.
Conditions at its back-up landing site in the Mojave Desert, north of Los Angeles, were mujch better with clear skies and barely a trace of the winds that had sparked concern about touching down at Edwards earlier.
NASA had to forego two landing opportunities in Florida Thursday as well because of bad weather. The shuttle cannot land in rain because it could damage the thousands of black ceramic tiles that protect its underside from the searing heat of re-entry through the atmosphere.
NASA would have preferred to land at Kennedy to save the expense and time required to piggyback the shuttle back across the country on a modified Boeing 747.
Williams' space journey began Dec 9 with the launch of Atlantis. The shuttle blasted off June 8 to fetch Williams and install new solar power panels aboard the International Space Station.
American astronaut Clayton Anderson has replaced her as the new flight engineer on the station.