Columbia Streaks Toward Florida Landing
By Marcia Dunn
AP Aerospace Writer
Saturday, February 1, 2003; 8:28 AM
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. –– With security
tighter than usual, space shuttle Columbia streaked toward a Florida
touchdown Saturday to end a successful 16-day scientific research
mission that included the first Israeli astronaut.
morning fog burned off as the sun rose, and Mission Control gave the
seven astronauts the go-ahead to come home on time. "I guess you've
been wondering, but you are 'go' for the deorbit burn," Mission Control
radioed at practically the last minute.
Ilan Ramon, a colonel in
Israel's air force and former fighter pilot, became the first man from
his country to fly in space, and his presence resulted in an increase
in security, not only for Columbia's Jan. 16 launch, but also for its
landing. Space agency officials feared his presence might make the
shuttle more of a terrorist target.
"We've taken all reasonable
measures, and all of our landings so far since 9-11 have gone
perfectly," said Lt. Col. Michael Rein, an Air Force spokesman.
crew – Ramon and six Americans – completed all of their 80-plus
experiments in orbit. They studied ant, bee and spider behavior in
weightlessness as well as changes in flames and flower scents, and took
measurements of atmospheric dust with a pair of Israeli cameras.
13 lab rats on board – part of a brain and heart study – had to face
the guillotine following the flight so researchers could see up-close
the effects of so much time in weightlessness. The insects and other
animals had a brighter, longer future: the student experimenters were
going to get them back and many of the youngsters planned to keep them,
almost like pets.
All of the scientific objectives were
accomplished during the round-the-clock laboratory mission, and some of
the work may be continued aboard the international space station,
researchers said. The only problem of note was a pair of malfunctioning
dehumidifiers, which temporarily raised temperatures inside the
laboratory to the low 80s, 10 degrees higher than desired.
Some of Columbia's crew members didn't want their time in space to end.
"Do we really have to come back?" astronaut David Brown jokingly asked Mission Control before the ride home.
next shuttle flight, a space station construction mission, is scheduled
for March. The next time Columbia flies will be in November, when it
carries into orbit educator-astronaut Barbara Morgan, who was the
backup for Challenger crew member Christa McAuliffe in 1986.
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