June 14, 2008

Discovery Returns Home After Successful Mission

The Discovery astronauts dropped from Earth's orbit and soared to a safe landing in Florida this morning, drawing to an end a 14-day mission to the international space station for the delivery of a $1 billion Japanese science module.

The winged space ship swooped out of a sunny Florida sky and onto the runway at NASA's Kennedy Space Center at 10:15 a.m. CDT.

Discovery's return to Earth unfolded trouble-free. Weather conditions were ideal.

"Great to be back," said Discovery commander Mark Kelly , who guided the shuttle to a landing with pilot Ken Ham .

"Beautiful landing, Mark," said Mission Control's shuttle communicator Terry Virts .

Discovery circled the Earth 217 times over two weeks, covering 5.7 million miles.

Kelly's crew includes pilot Ham, flight engineer Ron Garan, mission specialists Mike Fossum, Karen Nyberg and Akihiko Hoshide of Japan. They were joined by Garrett Reisman, who returned to Earth after a 95-day mission to the space station. .

The astronauts planned to spend the night in Florida, visiting with close family members, undergoing medical exams and resting.

They are scheduled to fly to Houston, where they train at NASA's Johnson Space Center and maintain their homes, on Sunday.

A welcoming ceremony is planned at 4 p.m. Sunday at Ellington Field, NASA Hangar 990. The event is open to the public.

NASA astronaut Greg Chamitoff, who launched with Discovery, remains aboard the space station with Russians Sergei Volkov and Oleg Kononenko. Chamitoff, a 45-year-old aeronautical engineer, is scheduled to return to Earth in late November aboard the shuttle Endeavour.

STS-124 is the 123rd shuttle mission and 26th shuttle flight to visit the space station.

STS-124 Landing Blog

11:15 a.m. - Touchdown! Discovery is rolling out on Kennedy Space Center's runway 15, capping a successful two-week, 5.7-million-mile mission to add Japan's Pressurized Module for its Kibo laboratory to the International Space Station.

11:14 a.m. - Discovery's landing gear is down and locked and the orbiter is on target for touchdown in less than a minute. The orbiter will be traveling nearly 200 miles per hour at main gear touchdown. 11:12 a.m. - Two distinct sonic booms -- a returning shuttle's signature greeting -- just echoed across Kennedy Space Center, heralding Discovery's approach. Three minutes from touchdown.

11:11 a.m. - Commander Mark Kelly is now flying Discovery, guiding the orbiter through a 244-degree turn to the left to align with the centerline of runway 15.

11:10 a.m. - Five minutes to touchdown.

11:08 a.m. - Six minutes to touchdown, Discovery is 75 miles away from the runway, flying west of Florida's Lake Okeechobee.

11:05 a.m. - Ten minutes to go until touchdown, Discovery is 265 nautical miles from the landing site.

11:00 a.m. - Fifteen minutes until touchdown.

10:55 a.m. - Discovery is approaching the west coast of Central America, flying 21 times the speed of sound. The orbiter is continuing its series of banking maneuvers to dissipate its speed.

10:50 a.m. - Now only 25 minutes until touchdown, Discovery is flying about 48 miles above Earth's surface.

10:48 a.m. - Discovery is rolling left 80 degrees, the first in a pre-programmed series of four steep banks that help eliminate excess energy as the orbiter continues its descent toward Kennedy Space Center.

10:43 a.m. - Now traveling at an altitude of about 400,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean, Discovery is passing the point of "entry interface," meaning the vehicle and crew are just beginning to encounter the effects of Earth's atmosphere. The orbiter is traveling 25 times the speed of sound as it continues on its landing path. On Discovery's middeck, astronaut Garrett Reisman is beginning to feel the first tug of gravity after being in space for 95 days.

10:31 a.m. - Discovery's remaining two auxiliary power units have been activated and are in good shape to support today's reentry and landing.

10:25 a.m. - With the deorbit burn complete, the Kennedy-based landing convoy is slowly making its way to the Shuttle Landing Facility in a long, single-file line of about 40 specialized vehicles. The convoy's vehicles and personnel will approach the returning orbiter and crew shortly after landing and begin the preparing it for towing to the nearby orbiter processing facility.

10:14 a.m. - Discovery must rotate once more, maneuvering into a nose-first orientation for reentry.

10:13 a.m. - And Mission Control confirms a good deorbit burn with no adjustments required. Space shuttle Discovery is on its way home.

10:10 a.m. - Discovery's two orbital maneuvering system engines are firing. The deorbit burn will last about two-and-a-half minutes, enough to slow the vehicle by 289 feet per second and begin its unpowered glide back to Earth.

10:05 a.m. - Auxiliary power unit number two has been activated. The other two units will be activated following the deorbit burn. During landing, the orbiter's three auxiliary power units provide hydraulic pressure to several key systems, including the vehicle's aerosurfaces, landing gear, main landing gear brakes and nose wheel steering.

10:00 a.m. - Some statistics regarding today's landing: This will be the 69th shuttle landing at the Kennedy Space Center, and the fifth Kennedy landing in a row.

All systems on Discovery are looking good and the deorbit burn is coming up in ten minutes. Discovery is due home in exactly one hour and fifteen minutes.

9:50 a.m. - Commander Mark Kelly is maneuvering Discovery into the deorbit burn attitude. Using Discovery's reaction control thrusters, Kelly is manually rotating the orbiter into a backward-facing position so that the two orbital maneuvering system engines will fire into the direction of travel.

9:48 a.m. - "Go" for the deorbit burn! Virts just radioed Discovery with the good news, prompting an audible cheer from the crew. The deorbit burn is 22 minutes from now.

9:40 a.m. - Thirty minutes remain until the deorbit burn. At his Mission Control console at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Flight Director Richard Jones is preparing to make the "go-no go" decision for the deorbit burn, which is coming up at 10:10 a.m. Astronaut Terry Virts, today's capsule communicator or "CAPCOM," will inform the flight crew of the decision.

The astronauts have taken their seats aboard Discovery. Commander Mark Kelly and Pilot Ken Ham will take the front two seats on the orbiter's flight deck, with Mission Specialists Ron Garan and Karen Nyberg seated behind them. Mission Specialist Mike Fossum is joined on Discovery's middeck by Akihiko Hoshide, representing the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and Garrett Reisman, who is returning to Earth after serving as Expedition 17 Flight Engineer for three months aboard the International Space Station. Reisman is seated in a special recumbent seat that will help him cope with the readjustment to gravity.

9:25 a.m. - Landing preparations have been under way both in orbit and on the ground since early this morning. Discovery's payload bay doors were closed for reentry just before 6:30 a.m., and Mission Control then gave the "go" to transition the orbiter's onboard computers to "OPS 3," the deorbit and entry flight software package.

Discovery's seven crew members are now dressed in their orange launch-and-entry suits, the same suits they wore when they rode into orbit two weeks ago today. They've also started "fluid loading," which involves drinking liquids to help counteract the effects of reentry on the astronauts' vestibular systems.

9:15 a.m. - Good morning. It's a clear, warm day here at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where space shuttle Discovery is expected to land in two hours, returning seven astronauts to Earth and wrapping up the two-week STS-124 mission to the International Space Station.

There are two landing opportunities today at Kennedy, the space shuttle's home port. Right now, mission managers are aiming for a touchdown on Runway 15 at 11:15 a.m. on Discovery's 217th orbit. A second opportunity is available on the following orbit with a touchdown time of 12:50 p.m.

Weather at the landing site is excellent, with very light winds, good visibility, no precipitation and scattered clouds to the south. Chief Astronaut Steve Lindsey is monitoring the weather as he flies landing approaches to Runway 15 in the shuttle training aircraft. The modified Gulf Stream II jet simulates an orbiter's cockpit, motion and visual cues, and handling qualities.

The "go-no go" decision to fire Discovery's three main engines for the return to Earth is expected in about half an hour, so stay with NASA's Landing Blog for the latest.


On the Net: