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Shuttle Astronauts Greeted as Heroes in Houston

A day after ending a grueling and historic 15-day mission, the seven astronauts of the space shuttle Discovery arrived in Houston to a cheering crowd of relatives, friends and colleagues.

"It's just wonderful to be here, finally, face to face with you again," said Commander Pamela Melroy, who became only the second woman to land a shuttle and whose leadership coincided with the first woman-led crew of the international space station.

The shuttle, which landed Wednesday in Florida after its first coast-to-coast re-entry since the Columbia disaster five years ago, also brought Clay Anderson back to Earth after 152 days aboard the space station.

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Anderson had left on his father's birthday and returned on his own 15th wedding anniversary, the astronaut said after the crew arrived at Houston's Ellington Field.

"You can't write a script that's any better than that," he said.

President Bush, in Houston for a fundraiser, took time to shake hands and be photographed with astronauts and their families.

The most dramatic and challenging moments of the mission came on Saturday, when the shuttle crew and the three astronauts aboard the space station teamed up to repair a damaged solar wing.

Using wire cutters, pliers and homemade tools, Scott Parazynski made the repairs in a single unplanned spacewalk.

His seven-hour excursion — one of the most dangerous repairs ever attempted in orbit — also marked the farthest anyone had ventured from the space station.

Melroy described herself as a bit of a "terrified mom" when she sent Parazynski out to repair the array. "Maybe you heard me squeak: 'Be careful,'" she joked.

"I thought you said, 'Don't break anything,'" responded Parazynski, who described himself as "verklempt" when he thanked his family for their support.

The successful repair to the 110-foot solar panel allows the space agency to go ahead with the next flight to the space station in early December. A European space lab will be launched aboard Atlantis.