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Columbia astronauts reflect on record-setting mission

landing December 7, 1996
Web posted at: 11:00 p.m. EST

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Florida (CNN) -- Astronauts expressed frustration with a jammed hatch and amazement at the view from above after the shuttle Columbia returned to terra firma Saturday.

The shuttle landed safely at Kennedy Space Center minutes before sunrise Saturday after nearly 18 days in space, the longest flight in shuttle history. Fog and low clouds over the landing strip had forced two days of postponements.


Despite the record time aloft and the successful release and retrieval of two satellites, the flight was marred by a stuck hatch that twice forced the cancellation of spacewalks. The spacewalks were meant to let astronauts practice construction for the international space station.

But Shuttle Commander Ken Cockrell said the trip, on balance, was a good one.

"We were quite disappointed when we couldn't get the doggone door open," Cockrell said.icon (247k/22 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

The oldest crew member, on his last shuttle flight, perhaps had the most perspective to offer at a post-landing news conference.

At 61, mission specialist Story Musgrave 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.

"It is a spiritual kind of thing to be floating in a window and to see that going by," Musgrave said of the airborne view of the heavens.icon (255k/23 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

The other mission specialist aboard, Tom Jones, and pilot Kent Rominger credited Musgrave with teaching them.

"Story points out a lot of things about space flight that you wouldn't pick up on your own," Jones said.


Mission specialist Tammy Jernigan said a large amount of promising data about star formation and stellar evolution was gathered using the Orpheus observing device.

The five astronauts surpassed the previous shuttle endurance record, also set by Columbia, of 16 days, 21 hours, 48 minutes and 30 seconds. Columbia, NASA's oldest shuttle, set a new mark of 17 days, 15 hours and 53 minutes.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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