With its job completed for the mission, the Leonardo cargo module packed with more than 3,000 pounds of return hardware was safely tucked back aboard Discovery this afternoon. The operation sets the stage for the shuttle’s departure from the International Space Station scheduled for 9:52 a.m. CDT Monday.
The ten crewmembers aboard Discovery and the station are spending their final day and night together prior to the farewell ceremony and hatch closing scheduled for about 7 a.m. CDT tomorrow. That follows the wakeup call from Mission Control set for 4:40 a.m.
Leonardo brought almost 7,000 pounds of material to the station, including equipment, supplies and two scientific racks for the new Expedition Three crew of Commander Frank Culbertson, Pilot Vladimir Dezhurov and Flight Engineer Mikhail Tyurin. Leonardo – one of three pressurized cargo carriers provided by the Italian Space Agency – completes its second visit to the station.
Astronaut Pat Forrester carefully removed the high-tech moving van from the station and placed it back in Discovery’s payload bay at 2:15 p.m. CDT. He was backed up throughout the operation by Discovery Commander Scott Horowitz, who operated the arm during the spacewalks by Forrester and Dan Barry to outfit the station with spare equipment and scientific gear.
Once Discovery departs, Pilot Rick Sturckow will perform a strategic fly around of the station at a distance of about 400 feet before firing thrusters shortly after 11 a.m. to depart the vicinity of the complex. Wednesday afternoon, Discovery is set to return to the Kennedy Space Center with the Expedition Two crew of Yury Usachev, Jim Voss and Susan Helms. The three departed the Florida spaceport March 8 and will return after 167 days in space.
Meanwhile, Russian space officials are set to launch the fifth Progress resupply craft to the International Space Station Tuesday at 4:24 a.m. Central time followed by an automatic docking early Thursday. The Progress will carry supplies, food and equipment for the new Expedition Three crew. Its predecessor will be undocked Wednesday and commanded to burn up harmlessly in Earth’s atmosphere.
Discovery and the ISS are orbiting the Earth every 90 minutes at an altitude of 246 statute miles with all systems functioning normally. The next mission status report will be issued at about 6 a.m. Monday, or earlier, if events warrant.
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