Discovery’s astronauts, now consisting of the Expedition Two crew, bid farewell to the International Space Station and the Expedition Three crew and undocked from the complex at 9:52 a.m. CDT Monday after more than a week of joint operations. Frank Culbertson, Vladimir Dezhurov and Mikhail Tyurin now will settle in to oversee activities on the station for the next four months.
The final farewells and hatch closing occurred at 7 a.m. Central Monday just prior to closing the hatches and conducting leak checks between the two vehicles. Under control of Pilot Rick Sturckow, Discovery gently backed away from the station to a distance of about 450 feet. At that point, Sturckow performed a fly-around of the complex allowing for photo documentation and a final look by Yury Usachev, Jim Voss and Susan Helms at their home for the past five and a half months.
Returning with Discovery is the Leonardo Multi-Purpose Logistics Module that brought equipment, supplies and two scientific racks to the station. It is returning to Earth with more than a ton of equipment, experiments, personal effects and unneeded hardware.
Also today, Discovery’s crewmembers deployed a small science satellite called Simplesat, designed to evaluate the use of inexpensive commercially available hardware in space. It is designed to demonstrate Global Positioning System attitude control and pointing in free flight. It was spring-ejected from a canister at the rear of the Shuttle’s cargo bay.
Tuesday is a day devoted to packing up the orbiter and checking its landing systems for the planned return to the Kennedy Space Center Wednesday. Landing is set for just before Noon Central time with weather conditions expected to be favorable with light winds and only a slight chance of rain predicted in the area.
Meanwhile, on the steppe of the Kazak desert, a Soyuz rocket is poised to launch an unmanned Progress supply ship to the station tomorrow at 4:24 a.m. Central time. It is the fifth Progress to be launched to the station, and is scheduled to dock a little after 5 a.m. Thursday, the day after the current Progress attached to the ISS is undocked from the rear of the Zvezda module to burn up in the atmosphere.
The two spacecraft are at slightly different orbits, circling the Earth every 90 minutes. All systems are in excellent shape. The next mission status report will be issued at around 6 a.m. Tuesday, or earlier, if events warrant.
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