Jessica Rye/Katherine Trinidad
Kennedy Space Center, Fla.
NASA Welcomes Discovery Crew Home for the Holidays
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- The Space Shuttle Discovery and its crew returned home Friday after a 13-day journey of more than 5.3 million miles in space. Discovery's STS-116 mission successfully reconfigured the International Space Station's power and cooling systems from a temporary setup to a permanent mode and added a new piece to the station's backbone.
Discovery's Commander Mark Polansky, Pilot Bill Oefelein and Mission Specialists Nicholas Patrick, Bob Curbeam, Joan Higginbotham, Thomas Reiter and Christer Fuglesang landed Friday, Dec. 22, at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Fla., at 5:32 p.m. EST. Reiter and Fuglesang are European Space Agency astronauts.
After landing, Polansky told Mission Control at NASA's Johnson Space Center, Houston, "Seven thrilled people right here. We're just really proud of the entire NASA team that put this together. Thank you, and I think it's going to be a great holiday."
The flight was the second in a series of missions that are among the most complex in space history. Discovery's crew rewired the station's power system and delivered a key component of the station's structure. The segment will enable future missions to attach a new set of solar arrays.
The mission involved intensive ground commands as the station's power was shut down and rerouted in stages on two spacewalks. As systems were then powered up for the first time on their new channels, the station's power system was in its final configuration, ready for further expansion with more solar arrays and laboratories to be launched in 2007. As part of the station power reconfiguration and assembly process, the station flight control team uplinked a total of 17,901 computer commands, averaging about 2,000 commands per day. During a typical day on the station, flight controllers give approximately 800 commands.
The newest resident of the International Space Station also traveled aboard Discovery. Astronaut Sunita Williams joined the crew of Expedition 14. She is scheduled to spend six months on the station.
Curbeam, Fuglesang and Williams, with the help of crewmates, made four spacewalks that completed the construction tasks, reconfigured power and cooling systems, and retracted a snagged solar array. The astronauts also replaced a failed camera, cleared a worksite essential to the next shuttle mission, reconfigured power to the station's Russian segment and installed panels to provide additional protection from space debris.
The fourth spacewalk was added to the mission to retract a solar array that only partially folded into its box on flight day 5. The solar wings were retracted far enough so that the new arrays installed in September could begin to fully rotate and track the sun to provide power. Mission managers decided, however, to address the problem of the partially retracted arrays while the shuttle crew was on the station. With only several days notice, mission engineers in both the shuttle and station programs developed a spacewalk plan for Curbeam and Fuglesang that resulted in the arrays' successful retraction on flight day 10.
Discovery's launch was the first night liftoff of a shuttle since Nov. 2002. Several inspections in orbit revealed no critical damage, and Discovery's thermal protection system was declared safe for re-entry on the flight's thirteenth day.
The day before landing, pilot Bill Oefelein, who was born in Alaska, and the rest of the Discovery crew talked to Alaskan schoolchildren from the shuttle's flight deck.
With Discovery and its crew safely home, the stage is set for the next phase of International Space Station assembly. Preparations continue for Space Shuttle Atlantis' launch, targeted for March 2007, on the STS-117 mission to deliver to the station the S3/S4 truss segment and a third set of solar arrays.
For more on the STS-116 mission and the upcoming STS-117 mission, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/shuttle
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