Astronauts look forward to life back on Earth after an extra day in space

Wednesday, December 12th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SPACE CENTER, Houston (AP) _ The return of space shuttle Endeavour and the changing of the crew at the international space station will mean different things for astronauts Frank Culbertson and Daniel Bursch.

Bursch, who is moving into the station for a six-month stay, will be spending Christmas away from his wife and four children.

Culbertson, who is completing a stint as commander at the station, will be returning to his family _ but coming back to a nation in a different mood from when he rocketed away in August.

Endeavour's commander, Dominic Gorie, told reporters that Culbertson has heard all about the security increases and airport congestion after Sept. 11. Gorie also has filled him in on some of the other effects, like American flags flying everywhere.

``I told him when I drive down to my house, when I look at the homes along that street, probably 60 percent of those homes are flying American flags continuously, which was a really great thing to see,'' said Gorie, a Navy captain.

The astronauts and cosmonauts circling Earth paused on Tuesday and joined Mission Control to mark the moment three months ago that terrorists struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon with hijacked planes and crashed one in Pennsylvania.

Endeavour docked at space station Alpha last week to deliver a new three-member crew that will relieve the men who have been up there since August.

The shuttle will remain docked until Saturday, a day longer than planned, and return to Earth on Monday. The shuttle was supposed to leave Friday, but NASA approved an extra day, thanks to their power-conserving efforts.

Culbertson has been replaced at the space station by Russian Yuri Onufrienko. Bursch and Carl Walz also moved in for a six-month stay.

Since he'll be living in the space station over the holidays, Bursch spent Thanksgiving night putting up and decorating his family's Christmas tree.

``For me, that was kind of a big part of my Christmas celebration,'' he said.

Meanwhile, Culbertson will be looking forward to seeing his family, eating some ice cream and taking a hot shower. Vladimir Dezhurov said he is looking forward to the warmth of a sauna or shower after his time on the space station, and Mikhail Tyurin wouldn't mind a big glass of cold beer.

The moment the shuttle undocks will also have much significance for the crew members as they watch from the shuttle as the station disappears from view.

``It will be hard to leave it. This has been great but it's time to move on,'' Culbertson said.