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Shuttle astronaut collapses during ceremony, still adjusting from 12 days in space

Updated:
HOUSTON (AP) _ An astronaut from the space shuttle Atlantis collapsed twice Friday during a welcome home ceremony, a wobbly return that officials attributed to the adjustment from 12 days at zero gravity.

Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper left the hangar at Ellington Field through a side door but was not taken to a hospital. Officials said she was doing fine.

Piper, fifth of the six astronauts to speak, appeared to be confused before her legs buckled during her address. NASA officials and crew members braced her and lowered her to the ground. She stood up again, and the crowd applauded.

``Boy, if that's not a little embarrassing,'' she said.

After speaking for another half-minute or so, she again appeared confused and gripped the podium. Crew members stepped to her side and lowered her to the floor.

Two NASA officials helped her leave through a side door.

The Atlantis crew returned Thursday after performing the first construction work on the international space station since the Columbia disaster 3 1/2 years ago.

They performed three grueling spacewalks to hook up a 17 1/2-ton addition, which included a giant set of electricity-producing solar panels.

Piper, a 43-year-old from St. Paul, Minn., is a commander in the Navy and was a mission specialist and cosmic electrician aboard the shuttle. She carried out two of the spacewalks, joining an elite club of only six other U.S. women and a single Russian woman who have made spacewalks.
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