Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Discovery Lands Upon America's Space Coast

Discovery nears Kennedy Space Center today. (NASA)

The space shuttle Discovery left earth orbit this morning and glided home across America's heartland with a sunrise landing upon America's Space Coast.

Discovery returned home following fifteen full days in space which saw the orbiter docked to the International Space Station on a ten day resupply mission.

As NASA's oldest active space shuttle returned to Florida, she and her crew of seven crossed over the United States beginning over Northern Idaho; over Helena, Montana; southeastward to Little Rock; down to Montgomery and into northern Florida.

Discovery's main gear touched down upon runway 33 at the Kennedy Space Center at 9:08:35 am EDT, at a speed of 206 mph.

Commander Alan Poindexter then lowered the nose of the orbiter down allowing it to hit the runway twelve seconds later. Pilot James Dutton deployed the drag chute just prior to the nose touchdown to slow the orbiter as Discovery rolled to a stop after traveling 6,232,235 miles since her launch.

Wheels stop occurred at 8:09:33 am giving NASA's 131st space shuttle mission a flight duration of 15 days, 2 hours, 48 minutes and 8 seconds, according to Mission Control.

"It was a great mission," Poindexter radioed to Mission Control just after wheels stopped. "We're glad that the International Space Station is stocked up again."

It was the 74th landing by a space shuttle at Kennedy, and was the 38th space flight of Discovery.

Discovery's crew includes Poindexter, Dutton and Mission Specialists Rick Mastracchio, Stephanie Wilson, Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger, Japanese astronaut Naoko Yamazaki and Clayton Anderson.

"We had a lot of adversity but we overcame it all with some great team work. I've had two homecomings this flight. I got to go home to the International Space Station and now I get to come home to KSC," stated Anderson who lived aboard the space station for five months. "To all of you who helped get us up and bring us back, thank you so very much. God bless America."

As the spacecraft flew 223 miles above the northern coastline of Australia, Discovery fired her twin orbital manuvering engines for 2 minutes, 57 seconds at 8:02:55 am.

The burn slowed the ship down by 205 miles per hour, decreasing her orbital velocity to allow the craft to drop out of orbit.

At 8:26 am, both Poindexter and Dutton were surprised at one point as the the forward jets of the orbiter began firing to maneuver the ship for her entry interface minutes later.

Reentry of Discovery back into the earth's atmosphere began at 8:27 am as the orbiter flew 399,800 feet over the northern Pacific Ocean, flying at a speed of 16,900 mph.

At this point, Discovery was 2005 miles ahead of the space station.

The mission flew with several high points and a few low points.

Moments after reaching orbit, the crew experienced a glitch with the ship's high gain television antenna known as the KU-band. The mission had to be reworked since the crew were not able to use the antenna for television downlink or high data speed-related transmissions.

The crew also had to wait until after docking with the space station to downlink the thermal protection system survey which was performed on day two of the flight.

A nominal docking on day three of the mission lead to the start of the crew off loading 8,000 pounds of fresh supplies and new equipment from the Leonardo module to the orbital complex.

Astronaut Wilson used the station's robotic arm to reach into Discovery's bay and pluck out the cargo module and dock it to the station. It stayed docked to the Harmony module for eight days.

On the third and final spacewalk of the flight, an issue arose with the nitrogen valve on the newly installed ammonia tank assembly located on the starboard truss segment of the station.

The issue remains on going and space station controllers are continuing to look into what can be done to repair the valve on the cooling system of the station's avionics.

Discovery's next mission is scheduled for September on a flight which will likely shift from the final flight of a space shuttle to the second from final flight soon due to a payload issue with a summer shuttle flight.

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