- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 1, 2011

CAPE CANAVERAL, FLA. (AP) - Space shuttle Endeavour is back on Earth.

Endeavour and its crew of six landed at Kennedy Space Center early Wednesday. The touchdown closed out a 16-day mission that was the next-to-last for the shuttle program.

Endeavour’s crew put the finishing touches on the International Space Station.

Commander Mark Kelly will have to wait another day before reuniting with his wife. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords remained at her Houston rehab center. She was shot in the head in January.

The last shuttle to fly, Atlantis, was almost at the launch pad when Endeavour returned. Atlantis emerged from the hangar late Tuesday as thousands of space center workers and their families lined the route to the pad. Atlantis launches in July.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) _ Endeavour and its crew of six zoomed toward a middle-of-the-night landing Wednesday to bring NASA’s second-to-last space shuttle flight to a close.

Commander Mark Kelly and his co-pilot fired the braking rockets to begin the hourlong descent from orbit. Endeavour was due to touch down at 2:35 a.m. EDT.

Meanwhile, Atlantis slowly made its way to the launch pad for the last shuttle flight, coming up in just five weeks. Atlantis crept out of the mammoth Vehicle Assembly Building a little after sunset, bathed in xenon lights. Thousands of Kennedy Space Center workers and their families gathered to see Atlantis make its way to the pad.

“The show pretty much tells itself,” Atlantis’ commander, Christopher Ferguson, said as he waved toward his ship. “We’re going to look upon this final mission as a celebration of all that the space shuttle has accomplished over its 30-year life span.”

Kelly and his crew were eager to get home and hand the spotlight over to the Atlantis crew.

“Endeavour’s performed really, really well for us over these 16 days, as it has since its first flight,” Kelly said.

Endeavour left the International Space Station over the weekend. The astronauts put the finishing touches on the orbiting lab, installing a $2 billion cosmic ray detector, an extension beam and a platform full of spare parts _ enough to keep the station operating in the shuttle-less decade ahead.

Atlantis will blast off on the final flight ever by a shuttle July 8. The three-mile trip from the hangar _ the beginning of it lined with the cars of space center workers seeking a front-row view _ should be completed soon after Endeavour lands.

It will be just the 25th time NASA has brought a space shuttle back to Earth in darkness _ representing less than one-fifth of all missions.

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