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Home Sweet Home For Shuttle

Space shuttle Discovery returned to Earth Friday, wrapping up NASA's final mission to Mir and bringing home the last American tenant on the Russian outpost: a homesick Andrew Thomas.

Discovery landed on time at 2 p.m. EST at Florida's Kennedy Space Center on Friday afternoon.

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Throughout the morning, NASA kept close watch on the haze blowing in from central Florida wildfires as well as scattered clouds, but, in the end, determined visibility was fine and cleared Discovery for touchdown.

As soon as Discovery rolled to a safe stop, Mission Control radioed congratulations to the entire seven-member crew with a special note to Thomas: "Andy, they'll have your lasagna and Oreo cookie ice cream waiting when you get there."

Thomas returned home after 141 days in space, where he participated in research on the Russian space station Mir.

A team of doctors and physical therapists stood ready to assist Thomas as he got off the spacecraft and onto solid ground for the first time in months. A 45-day rehabilitation period will reacquaint the astronaut with the demands of gravity.

Astronauts return from long space trips with weakened bones and muscles. Their sense of balance is upset and their immune systems are out of whack.

"Most of the time will be spent concentrating on Andy's physical rehabilitation, just making sure that he has a slow, progressive and safe return to normal functioning," NASA flight surgeon Tom Marshburn told CBS News Space Consultant Bill Harwood.

After many days in orbit, Thomas said he couldn't wait to indulge in some earthly pleasures. Besides lasagna and Oreo cookie ice cream, at the top of Thomas's list was and a stroll on the beach.

"It will be nice to get outside and see some sunshine," Thomas said on the eve of his return.

Astronaut David Wolf, Thomas' predecessor on Mir, offered his advice on how to ease back into earthly life. Wolf said he was so queasy when he got back that he could barely look at the pizza awaiting him.

"Don't eat the lasagna the night you land," Wolf cautioned. "And that hot shower, don't make it a long one. It's a little hard to stand up, especially when you're washing your hair and your head has to move. That can get you twirling around pretty good."

Thomas said he is well aware of his physical limitations. Preferring to play it safe, he asked to be carried from Discovery upon landing.

Thomas, 46, an Australian-born engineer, was the seventh and final American to live aboard ir. Discovery arrived for him June 4 and left with him Monday, wrapping up NASA's three-year shuttle-Mir program that served as a prelude to the international space station.

During NASA's nine docking missions to Mir, 43 Americans visited the space station and more than 34 tons of equipment and supplies were hauled back and forth, said shuttle-Mir program director Frank Culbertson.

The seven Americans who lived on Mir spent 977 days in space, including 907 on the outpost. In all, 101 people including Russians, Europeans, Japanese and others have visited the space station.

The Russians plan to continue flying Mir through 1999 and then let it burn up in the atmosphere, 13 years after it was launched into orbit.

Discovery's mission completes more than 800 consecutive days in space for Americans. There won't be another continuous U.S. presence in space until next summer, when a U.S.-led crew moves into the international space station.

Until then, all efforts will turn to building the new space outpost. Construction is to begin in orbit at the end of the year.

"It's going to be quite a ride from here on," Culbertson said. "It's been quite a ride to date."

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