Astronauts Return Home to Houston After 'Amazing, Exciting' Flight

Astronauts Return Home to Houston After 'Amazing, Exciting' Flight
The crew of STS-124 returns home to Houston, from left to right: Mark Kelly, Ken Ham, Karen Nyberg, Ron Garan, Mike Fossum, Aki Hoshide and space station flight engineer Garrett Reisman. (Image credit:

"Exciting." "Incredible." "Phenomenal.""Amazing." Such were the words chosen by the STS-124 crew to describetheir mission to the International Space Station, where they delivered theJapanese Kibo module, the largest science laboratory to be added to the outpost,before returning to Earth Saturday and home to Houston on Sunday.

The seven astronauts shared theirincredible and amazing experiences with a crowd of several hundred friends,colleagues, family members and the public who gathered to celebrate theirhomecoming at Ellington Field.

"We're really happy to be home," said commanderMark Kelly. "It was a veryexciting mission for all of us. It was especially... a great privilege tobe involved in a mission that has such an international cooperation aspect toit."

"And really, as far as the space program is concerned,I think it is kind of a historic event, the partnership between the UnitedStates and Japan with the space station is something that made this missionextra exciting for all of us," he said.

"We got to grapple the JEM [Japanese ExperimentModule], theKibo module, with the space station robotic arm and got it installed on thespace station," described Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)astronaut Aki Hoshide. "The very next day, we got it activated, opened thehatch, went in and I guess you all saw what happened inside with all of us inthere, we had a great party for a brief moment," he said of theiracrobatics in the large lab, which had been broadcast to the ground.

"And then we want back to work and the next day. We gotsome [science] racks in and pretty much all of the racks we transferred thatday, so that big empty module became a laboratory. It wasn't activated yet butsure enough it is ready to go now," Hoshide stated proudly.

"The Japanese folks have been waiting for [this momentfor] 20 plus years. The dedication and hard work that the people thatmanufactured that module, the flight controllers back in Tskuba in Japan, whois probably on console right now, and also the training folks who prepared usfor this mission, I'd like to say thank you for them."

The incredible, phenomenal ride to orbit

"What a fantastic journey! I don't think I have thewords to describe it, especially being an engineer. It is probably impossibleto describe," said mission specialist Karen Nyberg, who was the 50th womanto launch into space.

"The ride up, absolutely incredible."

Pilot Ken Ham, who like Nyberg was making his first trip toorbit, agreed with his crewmate.

"I've been in the Navy for a little over 20 years.Probably spent eight years flying strike fighters, four years testing airplanesand another 10 here [at Johnson Space Center], hearing from other flight crewswhat it is like to go into orbit, and ride that ride, if you will. And I thinkI've heard all the stories. And I had an imagination in my mind what it wasgoing to be like but the actual experience was so much more," Hamrecalled.

"We're sitting on the launch pad, and my window pointseast, towards the Atlantic. Beautiful sunny day, sitting up there, looking outthe window, watching the waves and the seagulls. Those poor seagulls had noidea what was about to break loose. Those engines lit and seven million poundsof thrust was phenomenal. We rolled over on our back, I checked the engines forabout a half a second and then I looked out the window again. And it seemedlike in a blink of an eye, the sky turned black and I was looking at the coastof North Carolina, which has got to be a 200 mile trip up the coast in a blinkof an eye. It was phenomenal. And the Gs just continue to build. And over thateight minute ride to orbit you get this sensation that you are going really,really fast."

And then the engines shut off.

"After MECO [main engine cut off], we have a lot ofthings to do and I got really busy and at one point, we had flown into night.And I looked down through the front window, because we were in a nose-downattitude at one point, and I saw some city lights in the darkness, which is aview I have never had before. I think it might have been Spain, I'm not sure.And I saw a couple of meteors go by below us and all of sudden you get thisreality that you're in orbit. It's pretty cool," said Ham.

Clickhere to continue reading about the 'simply amazing' spacestation and 'phenomenal' sights of space at


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Robert Z. Pearlman Editor, Contributor

Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of, an online publication and community devoted to space history with a particular focus on how and where space exploration intersects with pop culture. Pearlman is also a contributing writer for and co-author of "Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space” published by Smithsonian Books in 2018. He previously developed online content for the National Space Society and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, helped establish the space tourism company Space Adventures and currently serves on the History Committee of the American Astronautical Society, the advisory committee for The Mars Generation and leadership board of For All Moonkind. In 2009, he was inducted into the U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame in Huntsville, Alabama. In 2021, he was honored by the American Astronautical Society with the Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History.