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Shuttle Animals Disembark After Smooth Sunrise Landing

July 24, 1994| Times Wire Services

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — NASA officials hustled thousands of small animals off Columbia on Saturday after the shuttle's smooth sunrise landing concluded America's longest space flight in more than 20 years.

It was the end of the line for the two surviving adult newts--dissections were planned by researchers eager to see the anatomical effects of 15 days of weightlessness.

A longer, brighter future awaited the four guppylike Japanese Medaka fish. They are headed back to Japan in a few weeks to live out their lives and continue to mate, under scientific scrutiny, as biologists look for any lingering effects of spaceflight.

Commander Robert Cabana guided Columbia to a touchdown at 3:38 a.m. PDT after a voyage of 236 orbits, or 6.1 million miles.

A one-day landing delay caused by offshore storms Friday gave Columbia and its crew of seven the shuttle endurance record--14 days and nearly 18 hours. The previous record was 14 days, 13 minutes, set by another Columbia crew last fall.

It also made Japanese astronaut Chiaki Mukai the world's female space-endurance champ. The all-time records of 84 days on NASA's Skylab in 1973-74 and 366 days on Russia's Mir space station in 1987-88--as well as the runners-up--are held by men.

In addition to Cabana and Mukai, Columbia's crew included co-pilot James Halsell, flight engineer Carl Walz and mission specialists Don Thomas, Richard Hieb and Leroy Chiao.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration's next shuttle mission, an Earth-monitoring flight by Endeavour, is scheduled for next month.

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