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Gouge Dug by Wheels Raises Questions on Brakes : Shuttle Lands After Near-Perfect Flight

Times Science Writer

The space shuttle Discovery and its tri-national crew wrapped up a near-perfect flight with a safe landing here Monday, rolling to a stop with two wheels buried six inches in the dirt runway.

“It looked beautiful coming in,” said Jesse Moore, head of the shuttle program for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. “I’m delighted that all of our objectives on this flight were achieved. They had a fantastic flight.”

During its seven-day mission, the Discovery deployed three communications satellites, dropped off and later retrieved a free-flying astronomical observatory, served as a platform for a test of a laser system that could be useful in a “Star Wars” missile defense program and carried out several experiments.

No Sign of Damage

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“Nice job, Dan, welcome home,” Mission Control in Houston told Discovery commander Daniel C. Brandenstein, 42, after the craft landed.

The gouge dug in the runway by the landing gear raised more questions about the shuttle’s problem-plagued braking system. However, engineers later removed the brakes and found no sign of any damage. Moore said the gear may have sunk into a soft spot in the landing strip.

Sixteen of the previous 17 shuttle landings have encountered braking difficulties of one sort or another. The most serious occurred two months ago at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida when Discovery’s brakes locked, one of its six tires blew and another was damaged when Commander Karol J. Bobko applied heavy braking pressure to fight crosswinds on landing.

On Monday, NASA announced that B. F. Goodrich Co., which designed the tires, wheels and brakes for the shuttle, will begin a new testing program designed to eliminate landing gear problems. A Goodrich spokesman said the problems appear to be due largely to the shuttle landing with heavier loads than were estimated in the original specifications. Part of the testing will make it possible to steer the craft by the nose wheel rather than by differential braking.

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12th Landing at Edwards

This was the 12th shuttle landing at Edwards, and the next few flights will also land here until the braking problems are solved. The desert strip is more forgiving than the concrete runway at the Kennedy Space Center.

The Discovery’s flight, one of the most trouble-free in the shuttle program, ended at 6:12 a.m. Monday as the craft touched down, kicking up a rooster tail of dust.

The seven members of the crew seemed in good spirits as they left the Discovery, struggling only slightly to regain their “Earth legs” after a week in space.

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In a brief press conference after the landing, crew member Steven R. Nagel, 38, described the flight as “the biggest adventure of my life.”

Wine’s Fate Unclear

Pilot John O. Creighton, 42, said the flight was a “step toward proving the reliability of the space transportation system,” which is now launching a shuttle nearly every month. The next flight is set for July 12.

It was a little unclear as to what would become of a bottle of wine smuggled aboard the Discovery by French astronaut Patrick Baudry, 39. The wine had been stowed in an area that could not be reached by the crew, and was returned to Earth unopened. Moore had one suggestion.

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“I plan to visit with the astronauts, and a toast would definitely be in order,” he said. The other members of the crew were Saudi Arabian Prince Sultan ibn Salman al Saud, 28, and mission specialists John M. Fabian, 46, and Shannon W. Lucid, 42.


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