Discovery’s Safely on the Ground

Discovery and its crew are safely back on the ground after a 13-day trip into space to visit the International Space Station. The shuttle detached from the station on Sunday, and then landed Monday morning in Florida at 1414 GMT (9:14 am EDT). After landing, the astronauts performed the traditional shuttle walkaround, and found the spacecraft surprisingly undamaged after its trip to space and back. The space shuttle Atlantis will be moved to the launch pad in early August to prepare for its upcoming mission to deliver a truss to the station.

The Space Shuttle Discovery and its crew are home after a 13-day, five million-mile journey in space. The mission, STS-121, succeeded in testing shuttle safety improvements, repairing a rail car on the International Space Station and producing never-before-seen, high-resolution images of the shuttle during and after its July 4th launch.

Discovery’s Commander Steve Lindsey, Pilot Mark Kelly and mission specialists Mike Fossum, Piers Sellers, Lisa Nowak and Stephanie Wilson landed Monday at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Fla., at 9:14 a.m. EDT.

Following landing, Lindsey and his crew did the traditional walk around, post-landing inspection of the shuttle. “I have been on four flights, and this is the cleanest vehicle I’ve ever seen,” said Lindsey. “We had two major objectives and we accomplished both of those, and we’re ready to assemble the space station.”

NASA’s Space Shuttle Program managers also were pleased with Discovery’s performance. The flight verified the safety of the biggest aerodynamic change to the external fuel tank in shuttle history. The protuberance air load ramps were removed after a piece of foam came off this area during Discovery’s flight last year.

STS-121 is the most photographed shuttle mission ever, with more than 100 high definition, digital, video and film cameras documenting the launch and climb to orbit. Data from these images helped assess whether the orbiter sustained any damage and whether that damage posed any risk to Discovery’s return to Earth.

The STS-121 mission also bolstered the International Space Station. Fossum and Sellers, with the help of crewmates, completed three spacewalks. The third spacewalk was confirmed after mission managers determined there was enough electrical power to add another day to the flight.

The astronauts tested the shuttle’s 50-foot robotic arm boom extension as a work platform. They removed and replaced a cable that provides power, command and data and video connections to the station’s mobile transporter rail car. The transporter is used to move a platform containing the station’s robotic arm along the truss of the complex. During the third spacewalk, the astronauts tested techniques for inspecting and repairing the reinforced carbon-carbon segments that protect the shuttle’s nose cone and leading edge of the wings.

Discovery delivered more than 28,000 pounds of equipment and supplies to the station, as well as a third crew member. European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Reiter joined Russian Pavel Vinogradov and American Jeff Williams. This marks the first time since May 2003 that the station crew has three members.

President George W. Bush called the astronauts to congratulate them on a successful mission and to thank them for their work to further America’s Vision for Space Exploration. The vision calls for NASA to return humans to the moon, and then venture to Mars and beyond.

Texas Governor Rick Perry also made a call during the mission to fellow Texas A&M University graduate Fossum.

With Discovery and its crew safely home, the stage is set for the resumption of International Space Station assembly. Preparations continue for Space Shuttle Atlantis’ launch targeted for late August/early September for the STS-115 mission to deliver additional truss segments to the station. Atlantis is expected to be moved to the launch pad early next month, and NASA managers plan to meet shortly thereafter to clear the shuttle for its first mission since October 2002.

For more on the STS-121 mission and the upcoming STS-115 mission, visit:

Original Source: NASA News Release