The space shuttle Discovery pulled away from the International Space Station Monday morning, wrapping up an eventful 11-day visit. The 7 astronauts completed their scheduled events as well as an unplanned fix to the station’s torn solar panel – created when the solar array was moved to a new location and opened up.
After pulling away, Discovery made one last flyby of the station, taking photographs that NASA engineers can study back on Earth. Then the shuttle retreated to perform one final inspection of the shuttle’s heat shield.
If all goes well, Discovery will land back at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 1:02 p.m. EST on Wednesday.
The astronauts completed one last spacewalk on Saturday, repairing the torn solar wing. This was critical. With the solar panels damaged, the wing couldn’t be fully deployed. And without being fully deployed, NASA couldn’t risk continuing the station’s construction.
Astronaut Scott Parazynski attached himself to an extension boom brought by Discovery, and was maneuvered out to the repair site on the solar array. He installed five homemade braces – “cufflinks” – that helped support the array, and realign the torn panels. In addition to reconnecting the torn panels, he also cut the guidewires that had snagged on the unfolding array in the first place.
The repair job was quite dangerous, because the solar array was charged, and would have given Parazynski a shock if he accidently touched it. He did have insulated gloves and boots, but he worked carefully, mindful of the risks.
“What an accomplishment,” he said, after fixing the panel and then watching it reach its full 33 metre (110 feet) length.
Original Source: NASA Shuttle News