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Space Shuttle Lands Safely in Spite of ‘Suspicious’ Box

Times Science Writer

The space shuttle Discovery and its tri-national crew wrapped up a near-perfect flight with a safe landing here today, but a “suspicious-looking box” almost threw a damper on welcoming festivities.

As it turned out, the box was harmless, a fitting end to one of the most trouble-free flights in the history of the shuttle program. The Discovery landed at 6:12 a.m., concluding what shuttle chief Jesse Moore described as “a fantastic flight.”

“The landing gear dug in about six inches” into the dirt runway as the shuttle rolled to a stop, Moore said, possibly because of a brake malfunction. The brakes have locked on some recent landings, which prompted a shift in the landings from Kennedy Space Center in Florida to Edwards’ more forgiving desert strip.

During its seven-day mission, the Discovery deployed three communications satellites for three nations, dropped off and later retrieved a free-flying observatory, served as a platform for a “Star Wars” test and carried out several experiments.

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Tight Security

“Nice job, Dan. Welcome home,” Mission Control in Houston told Discovery commander Dan Brandenstein after the craft touched down on the runway, kicking up a rooster tail of dust.

Security in early phases of the mission was tighter than usual because two members of the crew were from foreign countries, Patrick Baudry of France and Prince Sultan ibn Salman al Saud of Saudi Arabia, but it grew even tighter at Edwards. Access to parts of the base was severely restricted moments after the landing when a “suspicious-looking box” was discovered in a building occupied by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Air Force spokesman Dan Haley said security forces surrounded the area and dogs trained to sniff out explosives “alerted on the box.”

“We put a tether on it and moved it, and nothing happened,” Haley said. The box was opened and part of a computer was found inside, but no explosives.

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“It turned out that at one time the box had been used to hold some type of ordnance,” and the dogs apparently sniffed the residue, Haley said.


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