- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 19, 2001

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) An American and two Russians returned from their four-month space station mission with "smiles on their faces" and a bounce in their steps, despite all the changes in the world around them.
"We're very grateful to be home for Christmas," astronaut Frank Culbertson said shortly after space shuttle Endeavour brought him back to Earth amid heightened security on Monday.
Mr. Culbertson and his International Space Station crewmates walked off Endeavour, ending an expedition that began in August and persevered through one of America's darkest days.
"To be able to walk off on your own two feet is a testament to what those guys did on orbit on their exercise program and their determination to come back in great shape," said shuttle commander Dominic Gorie.
Mr. Culbertson and cosmonauts Vladimir Dezhurov and Mikhail Tyurin were aboard the International Space Station on September 11 and watched the horrifying smoky scenes from 250 miles up. The space station's cameras captured images of the World Trade Center that were relayed by NASA to news agencies around the world.
A retired 52-year-old Navy captain, Mr. Culbertson expressed frustration and feelings of isolation in the days after September 11. Over the weekend, he said: "It was a very difficult day to try to understand and realize what really was going on and the magnitude of the tragedy involved. You think: How could somebody do something like this and what happens next?"
As a high-flying show of patriotism, Endeavour carried more than 6,000 American flags to the space station and back.
The flags will be mounted on certificates and distributed to families of those killed on September 11, as well as to some survivors of the tragedy.
Mr. Gorie said he hoped Endeavour's flight was a source of strength for those who suffered "and I think we all have suffered in some respects since September 11."
"I have to think that every person who was here and watched the shuttle take off anytime, ever has to feel a sense of pride and strength and certainly patriotism if they are an American," he said. "That has to have some curing effect on our psyche, individually and nationally."
Only about 100 guests lined the runway for Endeavour's afternoon return, namely family members and top NASA officials. The crowd was one-tenth the usual size because of stepped-up security; most Kennedy Space Center employees were turned away.
The shuttle's launch 12 days earlier also was surrounded by heavy security to guard against a terrorist attack.
Mr. Culbertson was welcomed back to the planet by his wife, Rebecca, and five children. The cosmonauts' wives also were present for the homecoming.
Mr. Culbertson, Mr. Dezhurov and Mr. Tyurin spent 129 days in orbit, circled Earth more than 2,000 times and logged 53 million miles

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