NASA astronaut Rick "C. J." Sturckow, commander of space shuttle mission STS-128, recapped highlights of the 2009 flight during a presentation to employees of NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards July 13. STS-128 was the last shuttle mission to conclude at Edwards Air Force Base, as shuttle Discovery, shown on the screen in the background deploying its deceleration drag chute after touchdown, landed on Runway 22 at Edwards on Sept. 11, 2009. (NASA / Tony Landis) › View Larger Image
When Space Shuttle Discovery touched down at Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California on Sept. 11, 2009 to conclude mission STS-128, no one could have foreseen that it would be the last of 54 such landings at the famed desert air base.
NASA astronaut Rick "C.J." Sturckow, who commanded the mission, returned to NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards July 13 to recap the mission for Dryden employees. In his video-illustrated presentation, Sturckow recalled highlights of the 13-day supply mission to the International Space Station.
A veteran of four space shuttle missions, Sturckow had commanded the STS-117 shuttle mission in June 2007 that also concluded with an Edwards landing. Both Edwards landings were dictated by poor weather conditions at the primary landing site at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Sturckow detailed how the Canadian Space Agency's Canadarm 2 robotic arm was used to transfer the Leonardo module between Discovery and the space station, as shown on the screen in the background. (NASA / Tony Landis) › View Larger Image Sturckow said launch of the space shuttle was exhilarating for the crew.
"It's exciting riding a rocket. There is a lot of shaking and vibration that tapers off for the first two minutes of the flight. Then there was a bright flash (as the solid rocket boosters separate) and we continued on the liquid rocket motors for six more minutes," he said.
The rendezvous with the space station was another highlight, he said. The underbelly of the orbiter was checked to ensure the heat shield tiles were intact and then came the docking.
Docking lights flashed as the astronauts made their way up the tunnel from the shuttle's docking point into the ISS.
Discovery delivered about 15,200 pounds of supplies and equipment contained in the Leonardo Multi-Purpose Logistics Module – essentially a pressurized moving van – that was carried in the shuttle's cargo bay. The space station's robotic arm was used to move the Leonardo module from the shuttle to the station and then back to the shuttle once the supplies were unloaded.
The resupply from the module was the biggest part of the mission, as the combined crew moved large items that would be heavy on Earth with the ease of pushing pillows from person to person to move the supplies from the shuttle to the station.
The module 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, so named after comedian and television host Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report." Colbert had urged his viewers to post the name Colbert, which received the most entries, during NASA's contest to name the space station's Node 3.
Sturckow noted that moving large packages from the logistics module into the space station was like "pushing pillows" in the weightlessness of space. (NASA / Tony Landis) › View Larger Image 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 returned to Earth.
Sturckow noted that the station performing a two-fold role, contributing to both scientific understanding and future solar system exploration.
"If we hadn't flown ISS we could have never accomplished whatever it is we do next," he said. "I think that'll be one of the biggest contributions, in addition to all the great science that's going on up there."
The Walt Disney Company's Buzz Lightyear toy astronaut figurine that had been taken to the station on Discovery's STS-124 mission in May 2008 was also brought back to Earth on Discovery during STS-128. While on the station, the toy astronaut supported NASA's education outreach with a series of online educational programs developed to capitalize on the Toy Story star's appeal. The Lightyear toy is now enshrined in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
Currently deputy chief of the Astronaut Office at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Sturckow officially retired from the United States Marine Corps as a colonel while on board the ISS during the STS-128 mission.
Fifteen of Discovery's 39 missions landed at Edwards, the remainder at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The retired space shuttle is now enshrined at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center near Washington, D.C.