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Shuttle Discovery ends disappointing mission


CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- Space shuttle Discovery and its U.S.-Russian crew returned safely to earth yesterday after a symbolically important but operationally unsuccessful mission.

Announcing its approach with a trademark double sonic boom, the shuttle landed smoothly at the Kennedy Space Center at 2:19 p.m., ending an eight-day, 3.4 million-mile flight.

"You've paved the way for a new era of cooperation in human space flight," Mission Control told Discovery's five American astronauts and one Russian cosmonaut. Moments earlier, the crew was greeted in English and Russian.

The nation's 60th shuttle flight marked the first time that Americans and Russians, once arch-rivals in human spaceflight, were launched into orbit aboard the same ship.

But it was a hard-luck flight, a fact symbolized by its tardy return to Cape Canaveral. An opportunity to land earlier in the day had to be waved off because of high winds and moderate cloud cover.

More significantly, the shuttle's primary mission was a near-total failure.

The crew was to have released and retrieved the Wake Shield Facility, a free-flying factory for semiconductor materials.

However, a litany of communications and guidance problems thwarted deployment of the $13.5 million satellite.

The Wake Shield space factory for pure, crystalline gallium arsenide was to have flown 45 miles behind Discovery for two days. Making the best of a bad situation, scientists managed to produce five thin films of gallium arsenide. Still, they were not satisfied.

The crew performed some other experiments and learned a few things from the Russian about international cooperation in space.

"It appears their program is a lot more flexible than ours," said shuttle commander Charles Bolden.

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