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First Space Station Crews’ Last Day

March 16, 2001

SPACE CENTER, Houston (AP) _ The first crew of the international space station will spend an extra day aboard the place it’s called home for more than four months because of additional time needed to pack a cargo carrier parked at the orbiting outpost.

Space station Alpha commander Bill Shepherd and his two Russian crewmates, Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev, are now set to leave on shuttle Discovery on Sunday and return to Earth on Wednesday, a day later than originally planned.

They are being relieved by astronauts Jim Voss and Susan Helms, and new station commander, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Usachev. Alpha’s second crew will stay four months.

The first crew’s time on Alpha was extended because it’s taking longer than expected to refill an Italian-made module _ which will also be brought back to Earth by Discovery _ with more than a ton of trash and unnecessary equipment. NASA added an extra day to the shuttle’s mission to finish the job.

The reusable module, named Leonardo, was brought up by Discovery and attached to the station late Monday. It had been filled with 5 tons of supplies including electronics, communications gear and emergency medical equipment.

Leonardo was unloaded faster than expected but the process of carefully packing it so things wouldn’t bang around during the bumpy plunge through the atmosphere was another story. The mass also had to be balanced because of center-of-gravity concerns upon return.

Early Friday, Discovery commander James Wetherbee sent down a message in honor of the 75th anniversary of the first launch of a liquid-fueled rocket on March 16, 1926, by Robert H. Goddard.

``From the crew of the space shuttle Discovery, we would like to thank Dr. Goddard. Without you we wouldn’t be here,″ Wetherbee said.

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On the Net:

NASA: http://spaceflight.nasa.gov

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