Monday, March 07, 2011

Shuttle Discovery undocks from the space station

Discovery's view of space station 222 miles above earth. (NASA)

(UPDATED: 8:40 a.m. EST) -- The space shuttle Discovery departed the International Space Station today for the thirteenth and final time, after completing an extended stay aboard earth's outpost in space.

Undocking from orbiting complex occurred on time at 7:00 a.m. EST, as the two space crafts soared 220 miles high in the darkness of space, above an area northeast of Papua New Guinea in the southern Pacific Ocean.

Three minutes later, station commander Scott Kelly rang the traditional bell and announced, "Discovery, departing."

Discovery spent eight days, sixteen hours and forty-six minutes docked to the orbiting lab as the crew of six delivered tones of supplies, a storage module and performed two spacewalks in support of station maintenance.

As the latches holding the two craft together released, Discovery slowly pulled away at .29 fps in the direction of travel with the station, and with the shuttle's belly in the direction of travel.

Nine minutes after Discovery was 110 feet ahead of the space station as she moved out to a distance of four hundred feet.

"Discovery has been a great ship and has really supported ISS more than any other shuttle -- fair winds and following seas," Kelly typed out in a message on Twitter as the shuttle began her fly around of the complex.

Twenty-three minutes after undocking, Discovery pilot and Atlanta native Eric Boe took over and began flying the orbiter in a 360-degree orbital ballet in space.

Boe flew the shuttle to a distance of 650-feet away by 7:38 a.m., and was ninety-degrees of the circle around station.

As Boe flew the White Dove around station even mission control in Houston marveled about the excellent views of the shuttle and station as they passed over the northwest coast of Africa.

At 8:09 a.m. Discovery performed the first of two separation burns as she began her departure of the station.

We really enjoyed your company onboard, and I'm really proud of what we accomplished," Kelly radioed shuttle commander Steve Lindsey as Discovery sailed into the sunset of her storied career.

Ninety-seven minutes after undocking, Discovery's rear and nose jets were fired again in a second separation burn 8,300 feet away from the space station.

Earlier in their morning, Discovery's crew were awoken at 3:23 a.m. with the music from Star Trek, including these special words by actor William Shatner played over the famous music:

“Space, the final frontier," Shatner began. "These have been the voyages of the space shuttle Discovery. Her 30 year mission, to seek out new science; to build new outposts; to bring nations together on the final frontier... To boldly go, and do, what no spacecraft has done before.”

Today's departure concluded the final visit by Discovery to a space station as she sails into the sunset of her 27 year career.

Discovery first visited Russia's space station MIR in 1995 in an orbital fly around of the complex, and three years later made the only docking with MIR on STS-91.

That flight in 1998 also marked the final MIR docking by a space shuttle as NASA and Russia joined together to begin construction of the International Space Station. Discovery first visited the new station in May 1999 when it only consisted of two segments -- Russia's Zarya and America's Unity node.

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