Columbia lands safely after setting endurance record
December 6, 1996
Web posted at: 7:30 a.m. EST
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Florida (CNN) -- Space shuttle Columbia
landed safely at Kennedy Space Center Saturday after nearly
18 days in space, the longest flight in space shuttle
history. The pre-dawn landing caps an end to a mission
marked by two successful experiments, a jammed hatch and
several landing delays.
(1.2 MB / 40 sec. Space Shuttle Columbia landing QuickTime movie)
"Welcome home after your record-setting mission," Mission
Control said after Columbia rolled to a stop.
Columbia swooped through a slightly hazy sky and touched down
at 6:49 a.m., minutes before sunrise. The weather finally
cooperated. Fog and low clouds over the landing strip had
forced ground controllers to call off landing attempts on
Thursday and Friday.
As the shuttle headed for Kennedy Space Center, Mission
Control piped up a recording of the Navy hymn "Anchors
Aweigh," then gave commander Kenneth Cockrell the go-ahead to
fire the braking engines and come home.
"We're pumped up now," Cockrell said.
The five astronauts surpassed the previous shuttle endurance
record of 16 days, 21 hours, 48 minutes and 30 seconds on
Friday, a few hours after Mission Control decided to keep the
shuttle aloft for yet another day.
Columbia's new mark: 17 days, 15 hours and 53 minutes.
Columbia, NASA's oldest shuttle, also had set the former
Hatch marred mission
Despite the successful release and retrieval of two
satellites, the flight was marred by a stuck hatch that
forced the cancellation of a pair of spacewalks and the
failure of a navigational unit. The spacewalks were intended
for astronauts to practice construction for the international
"We had some little hiccups along the way, but it was a great
flight overall," Cockrell said Thursday.
Columbia went up on November 19, carrying two
satellites and five astronauts. Early in the mission, the
crew released a U.S.-German ultraviolet telescope which
orbited in free flight for two weeks studying stars and
The crew later released a second satellite, an orbiting
instrument that manufactured semi-conductors in the pure
environment of space.
Columbia then led the telescope and semi-conductor satellite
for three days in an unprecedented orbital caravan that
extended up to 75 miles (120 km).
Both satellites were retrieved. The Columbia crew had a brief
scare when the semi-conductor satellite passed within 10 feet
of the cockpit windows.
The crew included Story Musgrave, 61, who became the oldest
person ever to travel in space, the first to fly six times on
space shuttles and the first to ride in all five shuttles.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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