EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Space shuttle Endeavour returned to Earth on Wednesday with a trio of crewmen whose record-setting stay aboard the international space station was extended by bad weather on the ground.
A landing at Kennedy Space Center in Florida was waved off after poor weather scuttled opportunities Monday, Tuesday and twice on Wednesday. The backup landing site at this sprawling California base was used instead.
"Thanks for your patience. It's great to be back to planet Earth," astronaut Daniel Bursch told Mission Control after the landing.
During their 6 months in orbit aboard space station Alpha, Bursch and fellow astronaut Carl Walz, and cosmonaut Yuri Onufrienko, traveled nearly 81 million miles and circled Earth 3,100 times.
The three logged their 196th day in orbit Wednesday. The Americans broke NASA's 188-day space endurance record last week and became part of the longest spaceflight ever for Americans.
With Endeavour's touchdown, Waltz wracked up 231 days in space on five missions, the most of any U.S. astronaut. He is followed by Bursch, who has 227 days in space on five flights, and astronaut Shannon Lucid who has 223 days on five flights.
The crew's reunion with relatives was delayed: Family members were waiting for them in Florida, more than 2,200 miles away.
The three crewmen should have been home long before now. But Endeavour, their ride home, remained on the ground an extra month so that the shuttle astronauts could train to repair the space station's robot arm. Then stormy weather and a leaky shuttle valve added another week's delay.
Endeavour finally took off on June 5 with a new three-member crew for the space station.
The landing at Edwards Air Force Base was the 49th at NASA's backup landing site in the Mojave Desert. The landing adds an extra $900,000 to NASA's bottom line to pay for the costs of flying the shuttle back to Florida on top of a modified jumbo jet and for the extra personnel expenses.
Endeavour had enough fuel and supplies to stay in orbit until Thursday.