Friday, September 11, 2009
Dropping out of a cloudy California blue sky reflected by a setting Sun, the space shuttle Discovery tonight concluded a fourteen day mission to resupply and outfit the international space station with new equipment.
Speeding around earth at 17,300 mph, Discovery fired her two small engines at 7:47 pm EDT, to slow the craft down by about 250 mph so that earth's gravity would pull her down and drop out of orbit.
Discovery's main gear hit the Edwards, AFB concrete runway at 225 mph in the southern California desert at 8:53:25 pm, tonight. Pilot Kevin Ford then deployed the drag chute to help slow the orbiter down as the ship's commander Rick Sturckow slowly lowered the nose and seconds later applied the breaks to bring Discovery to a stop.
The orbiter's wheels came to a stop on runway 22L at 8:54:55 pm following a 13 day, 20 hour, 54 minute & 55 second supply transfer flight to earth's orbital outpost 222 miles above.
Discovery's 5.71 million mile mission was commanded by space veteran Sturckow. Pilot Ford was responsible for flying the orbiter following its undocking on Tuesday and station robotic arm operations. Mission specialists John "Danny" Olivas, Jose Hernandez, Patrick Forrester, Christer Fuglesang (European Space Agency) and Tim Kopra.
Kopra returned to earth following 58 days in space -- 53 of the days living and working aboard the space station as a member of the expedition.
Nicole Stott, who launch aboard Discovery and replaced Kopra following the ship's docking, will stay aboard the station until early December and come home aboard Atlantis on mission STS-129.
This 128th space shuttle flight concluded Discovery's 37th mission following her liftoff in the closing seconds of August 28th. Discovery and her crew of seven docked with the station two days later, which also happened to be the silver anniversary of Discovery's first trip into space.