CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - The jubilant crew of NASA?s shuttle Discovery is readjusting to life back on Earth, but glad to be home all the same after a successful flight to the International Space Station (ISS).
Discovery landed here at NASA?s Kennedy Space Center at 11:15 a.m. EDT (1515 GMT) to end a 14-day trek that delivered Japan?s $1 billion Kibo laboratory and a new crewmember to the space station.
?It?s been a long day for us, a great day,? said shuttle commander Mark Kelly after the flight. ?I think I have the best space shuttle crew of all time.?
The mission, Kelly said, was as much a lesson in international cooperation as it was in orbital construction.
?It was a privilege for all of us to deliver a Japanese laboratory on orbit,? he added.
Discovery?s crew staged three spacewalks at the station to install and outfit Japan?s Kibo lab, attach its rooftop storage room and perform maintenance work. They also delivered spare parts for the station?s balky Russian toilet, which cosmonauts revived during their joint mission.
Kelly returned to Earth alongside shuttle pilot Kenneth Ham and mission specialists Karen Nyberg, Ronald Garan, Michael Fossum, Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman, who ended a 95-day flight to the space station when Discovery touched down. But despite his long stay in space, Reisman appeared steady on his feet and beaming to be back on Earth.
?I think maybe we?re onto something here, we need more short people in the astronaut office,? said Reisman, who said before landing that he hoped his short stature might help his readjustment to gravity. ?I?m happy that it finally came in handy for something besides limbo contests.?
Kidding aside, Reisman said his dedication to a daily exercise regimen may have helped his ability to withstand Earth?s gravitational tug once more. He was also happy to finally see his wife Simone again, something he repeatedly said he was looking forward to before landing.
?It was fantastic,? he said. ?It was a very tender moment when I got a chance to go over and hold her again.? Reisman was replaced aboard the station by NASA astronaut Gregory Chamitoff, who is beginning his own six-month mission aboard the space station.
Aside from Kelly and Fossum, who were already spaceflight veterans when Discovery launched on May 31, all of the astronauts returning home completed their first orbital flight. That included Hoshide, who represented the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) when he opened the roomy, tour bus-sized Kibo module for business at the space station.
?Probably the most memorable [moment] was when we opened the hatch and we had a big party inside,? Hoshide, referring to Kibo?s grand opening last week when astronauts bounced off its bare, curved walls. ?It was good to see everyone enjoying that space.?
The 37-foot (11-meter) Kibo module is the second of three segments that make up the entire Japanese facility aboard the space station. It was two windows, a 33-foot (10-meter) robotic arm and a small airlock to pass experiments out to a porch-like external platform slated to launch next year. A smaller robotic arm for fine movements is also set to fly next year.
Fossum said that he was awed to see Kibo attached to the space station after undocking, adding that the contributions of past shuttle missions, as well as engineers and flight controllers on Earth, led up to a sight that finally resembled what until now had only been depicted in artists? posters.
?It?s just a great feeling of accomplishment for all of us to know that we had a small part, for these last two weeks, it was our time to play our part in the big play,? Fossum said. ?And you know, we knocked it out of the park. It was just a great mission.?
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