Longest Shuttle Mission Ends

SUNDAY, DEC. 8, 1996

Space shuttle Columbia and its crew glided to a graceful dawn landing Saturday, ending a record-length mission of nearly 18 days that was marred by a jammed hatch.

“One little, sticky doorknob,” a weary commander Kenneth Cockrell said afterward about the door problem that scuttled two planned spacewalks.

Engineers will begin inspecting the hatch this week and should know fairly quickly what caused it to jam.

The last thing NASA wants, or needs, is a stuck hatch on Atlantis’ docking mission next month with the Russian space station Mir, where astronaut John Blaha will need an open hatch to leave Mir after a four-month visit.

Atlantis has five hatches and “we want to make sure all of them are operable,” shuttle program manager Tommy Holloway said.

A jammed hatch also would be a nightmare and a huge embarrassment on the Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission in February. No spacewalks would mean no Hubble repairs.

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