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Discovery brings home first Alpha crew

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida -- The space shuttle Discovery landed in Florida Wednesday morning, ending a mission to deliver a replacement crew to the international space station.

Discovery touched down at 2:31 a.m. EST. It was launched on March 8 with a crew of seven, including the new crew for space station Alpha: Russian Commander Yury Usachev and U.S. astronauts Susan Helms and Jim Voss.

The original Alpha crew, U.S. Commander Bill Shepherd and his two Russian crew mates, Sergei Krikalev and Yuri Gidzenko, returned on Discovery after 4 1/2 months aboard Alpha.

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The three rode back to Earth in reclining seats to help them cope with the effects of gravity. Each crew member will undergo lengthy rehabilitation to rebuild muscles and bones that deteriorated during their long stay in orbit.

"The adaptation back to zero gravity is not easy," said Krikalev, who spent time on Mir.

"I know that for the first several days it's going to be tough on our bodies, " he told reporters in a news conference Monday while Discovery prepared to land.

Discovery's crew also included shuttle commander Bill Wetherbee, pilot Jim Kelly and mission specialists Andy Thomas and Paul Richards.

Discovery also carried up an Italian-built module filled with experiments for the space station, including research on the long-term effects of low gravity on humans. The module, called Leonardo, was emptied, then repacked with trash and used equipment that was carried back to Earth in Discovery's cargo bay.

Commander Bill Shepherd, stands and hugs his wife, Beth Stringham Shepherd, after returning to Earth on Wednesday  

The mission included two spacewalks to rig the space station for docking with Leonardo and prepare it for the arrival of its Canadian-built robot arm. The arm is scheduled to be delivered next month by the space shuttle Endeavour.

Meanwhile, aboard the space station, the new crew already has had its first emergency -- a fire alarm in the Destiny science lab shortly after Discovery undocked late Sunday. A search of the lab failed to turn up any smoke or signs of a fire and NASA declared the situation a false alarm.

Later, Usachev, Helms and Voss started settling into their new home and shift schedule. The trio will wake up at midnight and exercise regularly to help prevent their bodies from deteriorating in low gravity.

Discovery returns this morning
March 20, 2001
Shuttle bringing back space station's first crew
March 19, 2001
Alpha crew tackles false fire alarm
March 19, 2001
Trash-filled module put back in space shuttle
March 18, 2001
Astronaut's rehab therapist will be his wife
March 19, 2001
Shuttle mission extended
March 16, 2001
Shuttle to stay docked to Alpha an extra day
March 15, 2001

NASA Human SpaceFlight

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