12/30/1996 at 01:00 AM EST
When Shannon Lucid, 53, landed on Sept. 26, NASA's reigning Ripken had logged a U.S. record of 188 straight days in space. She shared her 67 million-mile mission with two male cosmonauts aboard Russian space station Mir. Now she's a living science project as doctors track her every vital sign, gauging the effects of long-term space flight—the reason for her voyage. So far, Lucid is experiencing few ill effects. "She's like a space superwoman," says astronaut Carl Walz. Yet throughout the cozy, post-Cold War road trip, Lucid seemed less a seasoned astronaut than a spunky mom (she's both), thrilled to be circling Earth (3,008 times). Her great crisis? A shortage of M&Ms, which were ferried to her via space capsules. Of course there were benefits to the trek. "A friend called," Lucid reports, "and said, 'You didn't have to pay a single bill, did you?' "
It's no surprise that Lucid is a trouper. Born to Baptist missionaries in World War Il-torn Shanghai, she spent her first year of life in a Japanese prison camp. The family later settled in Oklahoma, where Lucid earned her pilot's license at 17. She grew up to be a biochemist and one of NASA's charter class ('78) of female astronauts. But to husband Mike and their three grown children, she's just a working stiff with a nasty commute. "When I walked in the door," says Lucid, who with preflight training had scarcely seen her family for two years, though they exchanged daily e-mail during her trip, "everybody wanted to know what I was going to fix for supper."