Space: Those Balky Computers Again

After a splendid voyage, Columbia returns tardily to earth

Only seconds after the space shuttle touched down on the California desert last week, a playful voice crackled from the radio at Mission Control in Houston. "Columbia," it said, "we've got some good news and bad news for you. The good news is, we've had lots of beer waiting for you. The bad news is, we drank it eight hours ago."

NASA, of course, does not permit alcohol aboard its spacecraft or on its facilities, but last week, after Columbia's harrowing, computer-plagued final day in orbit,...

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