Discovery Lands Safely in Florida

NASA’s space shuttle Discovery touched down in Florida today, landing at Kennedy Space Center, and wrapping up a successful assembly mission to the International Space Station. The shuttle’s wheels touched pavement at 1:01 p.m. EST, with Commander Pam Melroy and Pilot George Zamka at the controls.

During their 15 days in space, the crew of STS-120 covered more than 10 million km (6.2 million miles). They attached the newly delivered Harmony Node 2 module, and relocated P6 truss. During the construction, one of the station’s solar arrays was torn, and so the astronauts completed an extra spacewalk to repair the damage.

In addition to the crew members who flew to the station, Discovery was carrying a special guest back to Earth: astronaut Clay Anderson. He spent the last 5 months living and working on board the station, and required a special reclining chair during re-entry to get used to the strength of Earth’s gravity after so much time being weightless.

Despite the resourceful repairs to the station’s power generating solar array, NASA managers are concerned that construction on the station may lag. The problems during Discovery’s mission has delayed other work on the station, and now construction is nearly a work behind schedule. The other shuttle missions are crammed together so tightly that there’s hardly any slack time. An upcoming mission to launch the European Columbus module may be in jeopardy.

Another problem is the metal fragments discovered in a wheel that rotates the station’s solar arrays. Without them rotating to always face the Sun, the station won’t be able to generate enough power to accommodate a Japanese laboratory due to arrive in April, 2008.

The next mission – STS-122 – will bring the space shuttle Atlantis back to the International Space Station. It’ll be carrying the European Columbus laboratory. It’s scheduled to launch on December 6th, but could get pushed back.

Original Source: NASA’s Shuttle Blog