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Congressional NASA Supporters Say Hello to Discovery

Ifyou were listening to shuttle radio communications Friday morning around 11a.m. you didn't hear the usual tech-filled jargon between the space shuttleDiscovery crew and Johnson Space Centerin Texas.It's not surprising as the people on the line weren't the usual technicians ormission managers but visitors from Washington, D.C.

NASAsupporters Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) and Rep. Tom DeLay(R-Texas) stopped in Friday morning for a tour of Johnson Space Center, which they bothhelp represent on Capitol Hill, and spoke for a few minutes just after 11 a.m.EDT with Eileen Collins, commander of the Discovery.

"Iwant to thank you for taking part in something bigger than all of us," said DeLay, House Majority Leader and one of the strongestsupporters the space agency has in Washington.He noted the flight is the beginning of "the fulfillment of the president'svision" to return to the Moon by 2020 and travel on to Mars. "The space programis up and flying now and we are looking to the future."

DeLay made a pointof pointing out the mission demonstrated what could be done by United Statesin space "with our international partners." Those partners have been warilywatching NASA deliberations about how many shuttle flights there will be tofinish the space station. NASA Administrator Mike Griffin has pledged to shelvethe shuttle by 2010.

Collins,on behalf of the crew, thanked DeLay, telling himthey were looking down on at "the beautiful earth" as the shuttle andInternational Space Station sailed across the Atlantic Ocean.

Hutchison,chairman of the Senate Commerce subcommittee on science and space, took a morepersonal approach, telling the commander she had visited that morning withCollins' husband, who the senator said was struggling with the aftermath ofhaving had to buy school supplies for the couple's children for the first time.

Hutchisontold the crew that "everybody on earth is so excited about everything you aredoing" and praised the crew for "a great return to flight."

DeLay, who watchedthe shuttle's launch on Capitol Hill with a group of fellow congressional spacesupporters, told the crew several times he looked forward to their safe return,planned for Monday morning, Aug. 8.

At present, the only majorconcern, aside from the typical risks associated with flying the shuttle backto Earth, is weather at Kennedy Space Centerwhere the orbiter will land at 4:46 a.m. EDT ( 0746 GMT).

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