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1984. ''Every hour is more than enjoyable,'' he told Mission Control when informed of his feat. On 17 January the Commander had celebrated his 47th birthday aloft with an inflatable plastic cake smuggled on board by his crewmates.

He also received a chorus of pre-recorded birthday greetings from the rest of the Astronaut Office and a message from basketball star Larry Bird, who congratulated him on the ''slam dunk with LDEF''. When questioned about his age by Mission Control, Brandenstein told them, ''I was hoping travelling at Mach 25 [orbital speed of 28,000 km/h], you wouldn't age!''

Columbia's return to Earth on 20 January was successful, but a switch failure in one of her GPCs during de-orbit preparations led Mission Control to wave-off the first landing opportunity. This particular GPC [the Number 5 unit] contained the all-important backup set of flight software that would be used if her four other computers failed or became corrupted during re-entry. To play it safe, the backup software was loaded into the Number 2 GPC and the failed unit was shut down for the remainder of the mission. Fortunately, GPCs 1, 3 and 4 ran the show perfectly during re-entry.

It was a nail-biting time; Brandenstein and Wetherbee were just 18 minutes away from firing Columbia's OMS engines to begin the irreversible de-orbit burn, for an anticipated 8:00 am touchdown, when the GPC 5 problem arose. The engines finally ignited for almost five minutes - the longest so far in the Shuttle programme - at 8:30 am, slowing Columbia by almost 152 m/s and dropping her into the atmosphere. No radio 'blackout' was experienced during re-entry because constant communications were maintained through NASA's TDRS communications satellite network.

Soaring through the darkness of a pre-dawn Edwards, Columbia touched down on concrete Runway 22 at 9:35:35 am. ''Welcome home. Outstanding job!'' radioed Capcom Mike Baker from Mission Control, as Brandenstein brought the vehicle to a halt. ''You showed the Shuttle at its best: deploying and retrieving satellites.'' All six wheels stopped by 9:36:39 am, giving a new duration record of 10 days, 21 hours, 1 minute and 39 seconds that would not be broken for another two-and-a-half years. ''Records are there to be broken,'' said Dunbar, ''[but we were] just glad to get another day [in space].''

For Dunbar, records would characterise the rest of her astronaut career. On her next flight - also on board Columbia - in June 1992, she would break her record from STS-32 by spending two weeks aloft. That would be the first in a series of long-haul missions using a new system called the Extended Duration Orbiter (EDO), and would be possible following a protracted series of modifications to Columbia that were scheduled to begin in the summer of 1991. Before those modifications could begin, however, the veteran ship had two more missions to fly, including some unfinished business.

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