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Astronauts return from mission to overload of sushi

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - Space shuttle Endeavour and its seven astronauts returned to Earth on Friday, completing a long but successful construction job that boosted the size and power of the international space station.

They ended up swamped with sushi.

Endeavour's smooth and punctual arrival, after more than two weeks in orbit, set off a steady stream of congratulations and an ecstatic welcoming reception for Koichi Wakata, the first Japanese astronaut to return from a long space journey. His station mission lasted 41/2 months.

At his request, sushi awaited him. But it was more than Wakata had anticipated. He was overloaded with sushi as Kennedy Space Center workers dropped off the delicacy at crew quarters.

Looking remarkably fit for someone still getting used to gravity, Wakata said four hours after touchdown that he had yet to eat any sushi because of all the medical testing. But he was going to splurge as soon as the crew news conference ended.

'I feel great,' he told journalists who jammed an auditorium, most of them Japanese. 'When the hatch opened, I really smelled the grass of the ground, and just glad to be back home.'

The president of the Japanese Space Agency, among the first to greet Wakata, said the astronaut would be accommodated properly when he returns to Japan in a few months.

'He said he did his best,' President Keiji Tachikawa said. The official said he was surprised to see Wakata walking so soon after landing.

The astronauts left behind on the space station said they missed Wakata, even though they were happy with his replacement.

'We certainly miss being there, but there's no place like home,' said shuttle commander Mark Polansky. He looked thrilled as he shook hands with senior managers and walked around his spaceship. 'What a fantastic mission,' he said.