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Space Shuttle Atlantis Astronauts Visit NASA Ames

Commander Chris Ferguson, Pilot Doug Hurley and Mission Specialists Sandra Magnus and Rex Walheim receive a warm welcome.

The four astronauts from the visited NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field near Mountain View Monday afternoon.

"We call this the Rex Walheim homecoming tour," said Commander Chris Ferguson, referring to his fellow crew member who was raised in San Carlos. To a roomful of NASA Ames employees and their family members, Ferguson said, "The rest of you will have a lot of opportunities to ask Rex questions, and the rest of the crew will be there to support him."

The astronauts thanked those gathered; while the Kennedy Space Center managed the shuttle takeoffs, NASA Ames worked on the thermal protection system that prevents overheating and helped safely return the astronauts home.

During a press conference, Pilot Doug Hurley elaborated on NASA Ames' contribution to the space shuttle program and his own training.

"Through the entire decade that I've been an astronaut, I'd come out here twice a year to fly in the Vertical Motion Simulator (VMS)," said Hurley. "If you use that simulator in concert with our shuttle training aircraft, the Gulfstream II, it is more than adequate to prepare for shuttle landings."

He said they were happy to come out here and train in the VMS, adding, "It was unprecedented to get that type of experience."

July 8 on its 33rd and final flight. During the mission, Ferguson, Hurley and Mission Specialists Sandra Magnus and Walheim brought supplies and science experiments to the International Space Station. One experiment will test the bone density of mice and another is a system to study robotic spacecraft refueling.

The astronauts also brought back a failed ammonia pump module to help NASA improve pump designs for future systems, according to NASA officials.

The crew touched down on Earth July 21 after a successful completion of the 13-day mission.

The afternoon event at NASA Ames was closed to the public.

"The astronauts were on a very tight schedule," said Michael Mewhinney, a NASA Ames spokesman. "And because of limited seating, we couldn’t open it to everyone." 

Check back for video interviews with the astronauts.

Bay City News Service contributed to this report.

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