The five-man crew of the space shuttle Discovery brought the first post-Challenger flight full circle Tuesday, returning to their launch site to thank the thousands of men and women who made the historic voyage a success.
The astronauts, treated to an old-fashioned homecoming motorcade Monday, planned to greet Kennedy Space Center workers Tuesday in a special ceremony near the giant Vehicle Assembly Building where Discovery was prepared for its Sept. 29 blastoff."The last time we left this area, we were going vertically," Discovery skipper Frederick Hauck said Monday after the crew arrived at Patrick Air Force Base, about 25 miles south of the Kennedy Space Center.
"We've come back here to Brevard County and the Kennedy Space Center just to thank everybody who gave us such a beautiful send off. We thank you very much," he said.
Hauck and his crewmates - co-pilot Richard Covey, John "Mike" Lounge, David Hilmers and George "Pinky" Nelson - then were driven north to Cocoa Beach in five Corvette convertibles, smiling and waving to thousands of cheering supporters spread out along the 3-mile-long parade route.
"I have to admit, we were not sad to leave the last time we left," Hauck said before a homecoming banquet later that night. "We were going straight up. I'll certainly admit at least my heart rate was up a little, but because of all the outstanding work many of your neighbors out here did just a few miles up the coast."
The shuttle fliers carried a special book into orbit that was signed by more than 15,000 Kennedy Space Center workers to symbolize the team effort required to ready Discovery for the first American manned space flight since the Challenger disaster.