Discovery swooped out of darkness as Commander Kent Rominger set the shuttle and his crewmates down on Runway 15 at the Shuttle Landing Facility in Florida to successfully complete the first shuttle mission of the year.
Rominger and Pilot Rick Husband fired Discovery's orbital maneuvering system engines just before midnight Saturday over Thailand to enable the spaceship to drop out of orbit for its high speed return to Earth.
Traveling in an almost due northerly ground track, Discovery crossed over Costa Rica, the southern Caribbean, northwest Cuba, and the Florida Everglades before honing in on the Kennedy Space Center for the 18th consecutive landing at the Florida spaceport.
Rominger and Husband were joined on the flight deck for entry and landing by Flight Engineer Ellen Ochoa and Mission Specialist Julie Payette, while Mission Specialists Tammy Jernigan, Dan Barry and Valery Tokarev were seated down in the middeck.
After landing, Discovery's astronauts were scheduled to undergo routine medical exams and be reunited with their families before spending the rest of the day relaxing in Florida.
The crew is expected to return to Houston early Monday afternoon, with their crew arrival at Ellington Field planned for about 1:30 p.m. The STS-96 crew's return to Ellington is open to the public.