Monday, September 07, 2009

Cargo Module back in Discovery; Hatches Closed

An Italian-made cargo module was undocked from the space station this evening and swung over to the payload bay of the space shuttle Discovery where it was then lowered and latched for it's return home.

Leonardo was secured in the aft section of the payload bay at 9:20 pm EDT. It was then attached to a power supply which will keep the module pressurized to preserve the science experiments inside.

Leonardo will be returning a multitude of experiments, empty tanks and trash to name a few home to earth. In all, the cargo module and Discovery's middeck lockers will return 5,223 pounds of items back to earth.

In contrast, Discovery and Leonardo combined brought 18,548 pounds of equipment, storage racks, experiments, supplies, fuel and water on this resupply flight.

To date, the international space station is 84% completed, and weighs 720,000 pounds (excluding the space shuttle).

Also this evening, the hatches between the station and the shuttle closed at 11:11 pm, following a brief farewell ceremony.

Discovery's commander Rick Sturckow adressed the 13 crew members which make up the Expedition 20 crew and Discovery crew at 10:38 pm, "Well, Gennady, all good things must come to an end".

Station commander Gennady Padalka later spoke addressing departing crew member Tim Kopra, "I know you wern't up here as long as you wanted, but that's life...", refering to Kopra's multiple launch delays beginning in June as Endeavour went through six launch attempts.

Expedition 20 crew member Michael Barratt then rang the station bell - customary for departing crews, "US space shuttle Discovery departing. Space station flight engineer Tim Kopra departing."

Discovery brought up new flight engineer Nicole Stott as she begins her three month stay aboard the orbital outpost. Stott is replacing outgoing station crew member Kopra who has been living and working aboard the station since July 17th.

Stott, whose home town is Clearwater, Florida, will return home aboard the Atlantis STS-129 mission, now scheduled to launch on the afternoon of November 12.

Just after hatch closure, Discovery astronaut Jose Hernandez told SpaceLaunchNews, "We closed the hatch to the ISS. We’ll spend the night here & undock in the morning. Kevin (Ford) will then fly around the station & away we go!".

Looking ahead, Discovery will undock from the station on Tuesday afternoon at 3:26 pm. Following a 360-degree fly around of the station by pilot Kevin Ford, Discovery will begin separating away at 5:09 pm, to begin her trip back home.

Discovery is scheduled to land here at the Kennedy Space Center on Thursday evening at 7:05 pm, on Runway 15 in the middle of the Florida swamp lands of Merrit Island.

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