Discovery Returns: Weather Brings Orbiter Here For First Time Since 2005
Preparations continued following Space Shuttle Discovery's landing at Edwards Air Force Base on Sept. 11 to return the orbiter to Kennedy Space Center, Fla.
As clouds rolled in on the East Coast, NASA mission planners moved their attention to the West Coast and more favorable weather conditions for Discovery's safe return. It marked the 54th shuttle landing at Edwards.
Rick Sturckow commanded the Discovery mission, which was piloted by Kevin Ford. Mission specialists included Patrick Forrester, a veteran of two space flights, John "Danny" Olivas and Christopher Fuglesang, who are veterans of one previous spaceflight, and first-time space traveler José Hernández.
Discovery also delivered a new crewmember and returned another from a two-month stay aboard the space station. First-time space traveler and flight engineer Nicole Scott replaced flight engineer Tim Kopra.
Many Discovery crewmembers walked around the orbiter about 90 minutes after landing at Edwards as ground crew prepared to move the shuttle down the runway to the Mate/Demate Device at Dryden. Sturckow made a few remarks at the runway.
"The crew of STS-128 Space Shuttle Discovery is very happy to be back on land in California. The crew is doing great; you can see them there behind me. Tim Kopra unfortunately could not join us on this walk around. He is doing some medical science experiments, so he is participating in those right at this time," Sturckow said.
"Discovery was a really great vehicle on this mission. It performed flawlessly. We are looking forward to getting back to Houston for the [mission] debrief."
The astronauts stayed overnight at Edwards and departed for Johnson Space Center, Houston, on Saturday aboard one of NASA's Gulfstream-II shuttle training aircraft. The astronauts were greeted with a welcome-home ceremony when they arrived at Ellington Field in Texas.
Crews at Dryden worked to prepare the orbiter for its return flight to Kennedy, which will be made on top of a specially modified NASA 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. Once the preparations are complete in about seven to 10 days after the landing, the orbiter will be lifted on the back of its host 747 and begin the roughly three-day flight back to the Cape.
Edwards has hosted three shuttles since November including the Sept. 11 landing, the May 24 Atlantis arrival and the Nov. 30 Endeavour visit.
Discovery ended a 13-day mission that delivered supplies and equipment to the International Space Station. From the shuttle's cargo bay, the Leonardo Multi-Purpose Logistics Module, a pressurized "moving van," was temporarily installed at the station.
The module carried 15,200 pounds of cargo. The space station's robotic arm was used to move the module from the shuttle to the station and then back to the shuttle once the supplies were unloaded.
The module also contained science and storage racks, a freezer for storage of research samples, a new sleeping compartment, an air purification system and the Combined Operational Load-Bearing External Resistance Treadmill, or COLBERT. NASA selected the name after comedian and television host Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report" took interest during the Node 3 naming poll and urged his followers to post the name Colbert, which received the most entries. The treadmill is a second one on the station.
Discovery's mission included three space walks to replace experiments outside the European Space Agency's Columbus laboratory. In addition, a new ammonia storage tank was installed and the used one will be returned. Ammonia is used to move excess heat from inside the station to the radiators located outside.
The Disney Co.'s toy astronaut, Buzz Lightyear, also returned from the space station aboard Discovery. He flew to the station in May 2008 on Discovery's STS-124 mission and served as the longest tenured "crewmember" in space. While on the station, Buzz supported NASA's education outreach by creating a series of online educational outreach programs.
The shuttle flight marked the 30th to the space station, the 37th flight for Discovery and the fourth shuttle mission of 2009. Six additional missions are planned prior to the retirement of the space shuttles that is currently set for 2010.