HOUSTON--The nine astronauts living aboard the shuttle Discovery and International Space Station received a long distance call from the U.S. President Tuesday congratulating them on their courage and successful mission so far.

"I want to thank you for being risk takers for the sake of exploration," President George W. Bush told Discovery's STS-114 crew and the station's Expedition 11 astronauts. "Thanks for being such great examples of courage for a lot of our fellow citizens."

Collins and the collected astronauts inside the ISS thanked Bush and praised ongoing efforts to renew manned missions to the moon and other planets.

"We really enjoy what we're doing, we're really believe in our mission and we believe in space exploration and getting people off the planet and seeing what's out there," Collins said. "The steps that we're taking are really worth it, and we want everybody to know that."

In January 2004, Bush announced a vision for space exploration--adopted by NASA--that called for a renewed push for the human exploration of the moon, Mars and other planets.

During his brief call to the joint Discovery-ISS crew from the Roosevelt Room in the White House, Bush assured the astronauts of his support for their mission. First Lady Laura Bush and Florida governor Jeb Bush attended Discovery's July 26 launch and were excited by the successful space shot, he added.

"We're with you, and wish you all the very best," Bush said. "Obviously, as you prepare to come back, a lot of Americans will be praying for your safe return."

Discovery's STS-114 flight is NASA's first shuttle flight since the Columbia disaster, in which seven astronauts were killed as their orbiter broke apart over Texas on Feb. 1, 2003. NASA spent two and a half years, and $1.4 billion, to increase shuttle flight safety and develop new tools and techniques for orbiter inspection and repair.

Discovery's crew has already demonstrated two potential heat shield repair methods during a July 30 spacewalk. During an early morning extravehicular activity (EVA) on Aug. 3, STS-114 mission specialist is expected to perform an actual repair - removing a pair of gap-filling strips of ceramic fiber cloth jutting out from between the black heat tiles that protect Discovery's underside from the searing heat of reentry.

Collins told Bush that the Discovery-ISS complex passed over Texas, giving the astronauts a good view of his home state and theirs--since it also holds NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC).

"We did fly over Texas today and had a good look at it," Collins told Bush. "It looks beautiful."

"Thanks for taking my phone call, now get back to work," Bush told the astronauts jokingly, prompting a round of laughter on both ends.

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