An ecstatic David Wolf returned to Earth aboard space shuttle Endeavour on Saturday after four long, lonely months on Mir.
The shuttle and its crew of seven swooped through a vividly clear sky just before sunset and landed on the concrete runway, right on time.
“Dave, welcome back from 128 days on orbit,” Mission Control said as soon as Endeavour rolled to a safe stop.
“I wasn’t counting. But is that what it was?” Wolf asked.
“This feels great,” he added, then joked: “Feels like you’re having a little gravity storm down here.”
Eager to talk, he gave a blow-by-blow description of the hatch being opened.
“Ah, I can smell the air from the Earth,” he said.
Wolf could smell something else once he climbed out of the shuttle and walked into the airport-style people mover - the aroma of pizza, a small with pepperoni and mushrooms, just like he ordered.
Flight Crew Operations Chief Dave Leestma brought a pepperoni-and-mushroom pizza for Wolf, who opened the box and took a big sniff. But the medical doctor-turned astronaut couldn’t eat it because it wasn’t in the interest of science. If there was something weird going on with Wolf’s body, doctors wanted to know it was from four months on Mir instead of bad pizza, NASA shuttle-Mir scientist Victor Schneider said.
“Stand by, I’ll eat it later,” Wolf told Leestma, who said the astronaut “looks terrific.”
Actually, Wolf was scheduled to get a fresher, hotter pizza four hours later -after initial medical tests, the first of several weeks’ worth.
Wolf was just happy to be home.
“Thanks to everybody, this feels great,” Wolf radioed after Endeavour came to a stop at Kennedy Space Center.
Wolf “is in great spirits,” Endeavour commander Terry Wilcutt said an hour later.
Shuttle-Mir chief Frank Culbertson said Wolf asked him to tell the world, “This was the greatest adventure of his life.”
Wolf’s family was eager to see him.
“He hasn’t had a shower in four months, and I’m going to hug him anyway,” his mother, Dottie Wolf, said.
Father Harry Wolf said, “I cried a little bit.”
Girlfriend Tammy Kruse knew how she wanted to greet Wolf.
“I don’t plan to say anything,” Kruse said. “I just plan to give him a big kiss.”
Endeavour returned from a nine-day mission, the eighth of nine planned dockings with Mir.
Meanwhile, Wolf’s old home just got a bit more crowded. A Soyuz capsule with two new Mir crew members and a French researcher arrived at Mir and safely docked Saturday.