Safe and sound, the Space Shuttle Discovery touched down smoothly at 8:11 a.m. EDT Tuesday at Edwards Air Force Base in California after a glowing re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere followed by a 5,000-mile glide through the still-darkened dawn sky.
"Houston," said Discovery Commander Eileen Collins, "we are stopped."
"Happy to be back," she added.
The uneventful descent and picture-perfect landing in the Mojave Desert concluded an eventful 14-day journey, a voyage of 5.8 million miles, 214 sunsets, a rendezvous with the International Space Station and lots of worries about tiles and filler and a first-ever spacewalk repair.
At a meeting with reporters at his ranch in Texas, President Bush congratulated the Discovery crew, saying the flight "was a great achievement," the Associated Press reported. "It was an important step for NASA as it regains the confidence of the American people and begins to transition to the new mission we've set out for NASA."
Mission controllers had diverted Discovery and its seven-member crew from the preferred landing site at Kennedy Space Center earlier Tuesday because of unstable weather in Florida. That will cost NASA more than a million dollars, but nobody was worrying about that Tuesday.
"How do you feel about a beautiful clear night with a breeze down the runway in the high desert of California?" Mission Control radioed.
"We are ready for whatever we need to do," replied Collins.
Discovery is the first shuttle to return to orbit since Columbia's catastrophic re-entry in 2003 that destroyed that shuttle and killed the crew. So its journey was watched with unusual intensity across the globe.
At 5:06 EDT, over the Indian Ocean, Discovery fired the engines that liberated it from orbit for exactly two minutes and 42 seconds.
"Discovery is on its way home," said Mission Control.
Then, in free fall from 200 miles up, it headed toward the most hazardous leg of its return, its fiery encounter with the Earth's atmosphere, called "entry interface," about 75 miles above the Cook Islands in the Pacific.
Breaking through to the sky, transformed from spacecraft to aircraft, it then glided 5,000 miles, banking four times along the route to slow the hurtle, to the runway at Edwards reducing speed gradually from 17,000 mph, to 14,000 mph to 3,000 mph and then on final approach to Edwards, where 50 previous shuttle flights have landed.
The angle of descent is about 20 times steeper than a conventional jet aircraft.
"Discovery. Houston. We see you," said the controller at the space center at Houston.
Discovery then touched down on runway 22.
The crew later emerged and walked around the craft to inspect it, and Collins later told reporters that "it looks fantastic."
She thanked the support crew for the flight and said, "We have had a fantastic mission. We are so glad to be able to be able to come back and say it has been successful."
But Discovery's launch and flight to the international space station could be the last for a long while because the shuttle has been grounded.
NASA grounded the shuttle fleet after a nearly 1-pound chunk of insulating foam broke off Discovery's external fuel tank during its July 26 liftoff -- the very thing that doomed Columbia and was supposed to have been corrected.
NASA had hoped to land in Florida to save money and the long, slow trip back from California atop a modified Boeing 747.
Guy Gugliotta reported from Cape Canaveral. Fred Barbash reported from Washington.