SPACE CENTER, Houston -- Astronaut Joseph Allen says the space shuttle Columbia is more than just a 'flying machine' -- it's 'an awesome creation' that excites the imagination.
'I've heard the word flying machine about the orbiter, but I believe that's unimaginative and a weak word,' Allen told a crowd of friends and colleagues who greeted the Columbia 5 crew Tuesday when they returned to Houston.
'It is an awesome creation, a living, breathing invention that excites the imagination and does things that until a few days ago I could never have believed.'
Allen and commander Vance Brand and their families arrived back at Ellington Air Force Base Tuesday afternoon in one of NASA's twin-engine Gulfstream airplanes. They were followed five minutes later by a second Gulfstream carrying astronauts William Lenoir and Robert Overmyer and their families.
The wives of Brand, Overmyer and Allen were at the Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., landing site, and greeted their husbands there on their arrival back from the five-day shuttle mission.
Lenoir's wife, Liz, did not make the trip to California and rushed to give her husband a belated homecoming kiss when he arrived at Ellington.
'We had a good time,' the lanky, dark-haired Lenoir said as he stood flanked by his wife and teenage son. 'We tried to share the fun, but we may have overdone it. I understand we are all charged five days annual leave.'
A crowd of about 500, including space agency employees and neighbors of the astronauts, waited bundled up in the gray, blustery weather for the astronauts' return home.