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For NASA, mission shows that 'We're back'

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published July 12, 2006


HOUSTON - Aboard the space shuttle Discovery on Tuesday, three words rang out, capturing what a beleaguered space community is finally feeling after the problem-plagued Columbia years:

"We're back, baby!"

Astronaut Scott Kelly, down on Earth, telephoned his twin brother up in space, Discovery pilot Mark Kelly with that assessment.

Several outside space experts and astronauts agree.

Legendary Apollo era spaceflight chief Gene Kranz gave the highest praise possible in space circles: "They've demonstrated 'the right stuff' in addressing this mission."

NASA's top managers won't take a bow until Discovery is safely on the ground Monday, but day-to-day officials are clearly pleased.

"We're going in the right direction," Discovery lead flight controller Tony Ceccacci said. "It's time to get going and start building the station."

Experts say Discovery's performance allows the shuttle program to return to its old job before Columbia shattered in 2003, killing seven astronauts. NASA's mission is to finish building the space station with a 15 more shuttle flights.

Kranz, whose "failure is not an option" speech during the Apollo 13 crisis was immortalized in books and movies, said, "I look forward toward reopening of this space frontier and getting onto completion of the international space station and then get on to the moon and Mars. I think we're on track."

After a spacewalk today does further tests on heat shield repair techniques, NASA will have met all the requirements for continued regular shuttle missions set by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board.

"They have incorporated the spirit of our recommendations quite effectively," said accident board member John Logsdon. "The shuttle is a less risky vehicle than we were flying at the time of the Columbia accident. That was our plan."

[Last modified July 12, 2006, 06:05:17]


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