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Discovery returns this morning

Departing Alpha Commander Bill Shepherd shakes hands with incoming Commander Yury Usachev in a ceremony marking the first crew change for space station Alpha  

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida -- After 141 days in space, the first full-time occupants of the international space station Alpha returned to Earth this morning aboard space shuttle Discovery.

The shuttle landed at 2:31 a.m. ET in Florida, but only after stormy weather caused NASA to waive off the first landing opportunity at 12:56 a.m.

But as the night wore on the weather at Kennedy Space Center improved dramatically, prompting NASA to bring the shuttle home.

"Congratulations on your historic missions, as a crew of Discovery and Expedition One," mission control said as soon as Discovery came to a stop on the floodlit landing area.

First space station crew returns to Earth

Discovery delivered a new crew to the international space station and brought astronaut Bill Shepherd and cosmonauts Yuri Gidzenko and Sergi Krikalev home. NASA doctors were standing by at the landing area to help the trio, whose bodies have been weakened by their extended stay in zero gravity.


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

Meanwhile, the new space station staff -- Russian Commander Yury Usachev and astronauts Susan Helms and Jim Voss -- had to deal with a fire alarm in the Destiny science lab shortly after Discovery undocked late Sunday. They didn't find any smoke or signs of a fire and NASA declared the situation a false alarm.

Later, Usachev, Helms and Voss began settling into their new home and shift schedule. That means waking up at midnight, beginning their exercise routines and setting up a toilet for Helms, the station's first female crew member.

Discovery also carried up experiments for the space station, including research on the long-term effects of low gravity on humans.

Discovery returns this morning
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Alpha crew tackles false fire alarm
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Shuttle mission extended
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NASA Human SpaceFlight

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