8:30 p.m. CST Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2006
Mission Control Center, Houston, Texas
STS-116 MCC Status Report #23
Inspection of Discovery’s heat shield was conducted today as the seven crewmembers began the task of preparing their ship for their high-speed return to Earth on Friday.
One hour after removing the sensor-equipped 50-foot Orbiter Boom Sensor System from the payload bay with the shuttle’s robotic arm, Commander Mark Polansky, Pilot Bill Oefelein and Mission Specialist Nicholas Patrick began to scan the reinforced carbon-carbon surface of Discovery’s wings and its nose cap to ensure the shuttle incurred no micrometeoroid debris damage during its time in space. The six-hour inspection was completed at 4:22 p.m. Imagery and damage assessment teams at the Johnson Space Center immediately began analyzing the data. A report will be offered to mission managers on Thursday.
While the inspection was conducted, Mission Specialists Bob Curbeam, Joan Higginbotham and European Space Agency astronauts Christer Fuglesang and Thomas Reiter began to pack up equipment for Discovery’s scheduled landing Friday at the Kennedy Space Center. With only one wave-off day available on Saturday, backup landing sites at Edwards Air Force Base, CA and the White Sands Space Harbor, NM are being activated for landing support Friday in the event weather diverts the shuttle and its crew from the Florida spaceport. Discovery’s scheduled landing time at the Kennedy Space Center Friday is 2:56 p.m. CST.
Late today, Discovery’s astronauts sent commands to deploy small technology demonstration satellites for the Department of Defense’s Space Test Program.
The crew deployed a pair of coffee cup-sized satellites at 6:19 p.m. CST to demonstrate how a small, low-powered autonomous satellite can observe larger spacecraft. The Micro-Electromechanical System-Based PICOSAT Inspector, known as MEPSI, may one day use on-board imagery to assess spacecraft damage.
The crew then released another pair of small scientific satellites as part of a student experiment sponsored by the United States Naval Academy at 7:58 p.m. CST. The Radar Fence Transponder, or RAFT, experiment is designed to test technology for new spacecraft design.
The last satellite experiment, the Atmospheric Neutral Density Experiment, or ANDE, will be deployed from Discovery’s payload bay Thursday afternoon. ANDE consists of two spherical microsatellites that will measure the density and composition of the low Earth orbit atmosphere while being tracked from the ground. The data will be used to better predict the movement of objects in orbit.
Aboard the International Space Station, the newly comprised Expedition 14 crew, Commander Mike Lopez-Alegria and Flight Engineers Mikhail Tyurin and Suni Williams, enjoyed their first full day together after Discovery’s departure yesterday.
Discovery’s astronauts will begin their sleep period just after 10 p.m. CST and will be awakened Thursday at 6:17 a.m. for a day in which they will check out the shuttle’s aero surfaces and steering jets in preparation for Friday’s landing.
The next STS-116 status report will be issued Thursday morning, or earlier, if events warrant.