Turbulent weather in Florida sent Endeavour back to a California landing over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. The orbiter touches down under cloudless skies on Nov. 30. (NASA Photo by Tom Tschida)
In a post-flight press conference on Dec. 1, Endeavour Commander Chris Ferguson introduced the shuttle crew and thanked Dryden staff members for their support of the successful Nov. 30 landing.
The 16-day mission ended at the backup-landing site in California after weather in Florida prevented touchdown there. The landing marked the 52nd landing of the shuttle program at Edwards.
Eric Boe, a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards, piloted Endeavour on his first space mission. After his introduction Monday by Ferguson, he talked about some of the Dryden and Edwards history that he recalled during his reentry flight.
"On the de-orbit, you're on the other side of the world," he said. "One of my first memories as we were coming in at Mach 22 is that we were a lot lower in the atmosphere than we were [when] in orbit. As you get lower to the ground, it's kind of like being in an airplane in that you can't really see how fast you're going until you get closer to the ground. The clouds were moving a lot faster as we became closer to the ground.
"At Mach 7 or so you get a sense of speed, and I was thinking about Edwards and the X-15 that contributed to [the research] that makes the shuttle fly. It was very cool thinking that part of the shuttle flight was like the X-15 flights in the 1960s. We had a big alignment cone, which is a big circle to reduce energy and reduce altitude. At Mach 7 you can see the landing site from Catalina Island. Landing on was a neat experience on the temporary runway [runway 04]. I went to Test Pilot School at Edwards, and I liked seeing everything all over again."
Shuttle crewmembers give a post-flight briefing on the ramp before heading back to Houston in a G-II. (NASA Photo by Tony Landis)
Following the astronauts' appearance, they walked down the runway to a NASA G-II aircraft that was waiting to return them to Houston.
After Ferguson walked around the orbiter following Sunday's landing, he offered some brief remarks at the runway. He thanked everyone at Dryden and all the NASA centers for helping with the landing, and talked about the mission and the return to Earth.
"The crewmembers who are not with us are doing just fine. Greg Chamitoff, of course, is a six-month space flier and it takes just a little bit longer for them to readapt to Earth's gravity," he said. "Don Pettit and Heidi Stefanyshyn-Piper are also doing fine as well; they're keeping an eye on Greg. We thought we'd take advantage of the beautiful weather to come out and enjoy this gorgeous orbiter, which seems to have fared reentry pretty well."
The commander called the mission a success.
"It was very ambitious," Ferguson said. "We were the 'home-improvement team.' We improved the space station inside and out with a new water-recycling system and the repairs to the solar alpha rotary joints, which Heidi and her team so adeptly managed to repair. I hear [the joints] are performing very well."
Work gets under way on post-landing operations with Endeavour, preparing to tow it to Dryden. (NASA Photo by Tony Landis)
The crew also included Sandra Magnus, who replaced Chamitoff on the International Space Station, Boe, Steve Bowen and Shane Kimbrough.
Endeavour's mission entailed repair work to the International Space Station that will allow housing of six crewmembers for long-duration stays. The mission included four spacewalks focused on servicing the station's two solar alpha rotary joints, which allow the solar arrays to track the sun.
Endeavour carried 32,000 pounds of equipment and supplies that will permit doubling of the onboard space station crew in the spring of 2009. Items transported to the space station included additional sleeping quarters, a second toilet and a resistance exercise device.
The mission marked the 124th of the shuttle program and the 27th flight to the International Space Station. It was the fourth shuttle mission of 2008. The orbiter was docked at the space station on Nov. 20, the station's 10th anniversary.
Prior to Sunday, the most recent landing of a space shuttle at Edwards came when Atlantis ended its June 22, 2007, journey with a California landing. Endeavour previously landed at Edwards six times, most recently on June 19, 2002; this week's landing marked its 22nd mission.
Crews at Dryden will continue to prepare Endeavour for its return to Kennedy Space Center, Fla. Once preparations are complete, the slow and steady process of using the Mate/Demate Device to lift the orbiter onto the back of the NASA 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft will begin. The cross-country journey of the mated 747 and shuttle usually takes at least three days, as the 747 must stop for fuel and avoid traveling by night. A pathfinder aircraft travels about 30 minutes ahead of the SCA to verify that there is no precipitation ahead.