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Wednesday, 21 March, 2001, 08:28 GMT
Shuttle makes night landing
Land AFP
The US space shuttle Discovery has landed at Florida's Kennedy Space Center in a rare night-time touchdown.

Bad weather thwarted the shuttle's first attempt to land but conditions then improved rapidly, allowing mission control to clear the orbiter to come down just an hour and a half later, at 0231 local time (0731 GMT).

"Congratulations on your historic missions, as a crew of Discovery and Expedition One," mission control said as the shuttle touched down.

The return marked the end of a 12-day mission to the International Space Station (ISS). Discovery went to the platform to deliver a relief crew and five tonnes of new equipment and supplies.

Crew swap

Discovery brought back to Earth William Shepherd, Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev, the first residents of the space station.

The men, collectively known as Expedition One, spent 141 days in space, 136 of them on the ISS.

Their replacements, Expedition Two, were left in orbit by Discovery and will live on the platform until late July.

The new team, consisting of Russian cosmonaut Yuri Usachev and astronauts James Voss and Susan Helms, will carry out scientific research and help with the station's ongoing construction.

Supervised exercise

Doctors will have to monitor the health of Expedition One for some time. The spacemen are suddenly having to cope with the strong pull of gravity down on Earth after 20 weeks of near-weightlessness in orbit.

All three men made the one-hour ride from orbit lying on couches to prevent them from growing lightheaded or faint as blood began to settle in their lower extremities for the first time in months.

Although the crew should feel somewhat normal within a few days, it will be a month or more before they are able to drive cars. They also face about six months of supervised exercise to protect them from osteoporosis in later life.

Loss of bone and muscle mass are two of the most debilitating results of prolonged space flight.

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See also:

15 Mar 01 | Sci/Tech
Space station dodges floating debris
14 Mar 01 | Sci/Tech
Space station crews change over
11 Mar 01 | Sci/Tech
Astronauts make shuttle history
10 Mar 01 | Sci/Tech
Discovery docks with space station
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