HOUSTON – With a bit of poetic flair, space shuttle Discovery's astronauts thanked several hundred people Tuesday who welcomed them home to Texas.
Astronaut Piers Sellers told the crowd what the view was like from the shuttle "barreling around the Earth at five miles per second."
"Sunrises and sunsets are like watching a small, soft atomic explosion go off in the horizon and stream through and warm your face every time it happens," Sellers said. "Part of me is still up there floating around the world."
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The astronauts thanked NASA workers and their own families, and Discovery commander Steve Lindsey said their successful mission to the international space station was a sign that the country's space program was back on track.
"I can say it, and I think you all believe it. In terms of human space flight and where we are with the shuttle and station program ... we're back," Lindsey said.
The mission, just the second since seven astronauts died when Columbia broke apart over Texas in 2003, had as few problems as shuttle managers could remember.
"We are returning to flight, and we will continue to do what we do in space," said Rex Geveden, NASA's associate administrator. "It's important for our technological advancement, for our economic security. And it's important for our collective spirit as a nation."
Discovery's mission, which ended with Monday's Florida landing, spanned 13 days. Astronauts repeatedly inspected the entire thermal skin of their ship and conducted three spacewalks.
The other crew member who went up, European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Reiter, stayed on the space station.
The astronauts live in the Houston area and train at the Johnson Space Center.