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NASA's Landing Blog - Mission STS-116

NASA's landing blog was activated on Dec. 22, 2006 at 2:00 p.m. EST

NASA's landing blog was deactivated at 7:25 p.m. EST

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7:25 p.m. - Discovery is safely on the ground and the STS-116 crew is headed to Astronaut Crew Quarters after a smooth landing at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, capping an eventful and successful 13-day mission to the International Space Station. Thank you for joining us for live landing coverage. For the latest space shuttle information, visit the Space Shuttle Web site.

7:22 p.m. - The crew has entered the Astrovan to head back to the Astronaut Crew Quarters in the Operations and Checkout Building where they'll meet up with their families. They'll leave tomorrow, returning to Johnson Space Center in Houston.
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7:20 p.m. - Less than two hours after landing at Kennedy Space Center, STS-116 Commander Mark Polansky and several crew members have taken a look at Discovery and spoken to NASA managers who greeted them at the runway.

"It's a little bit windy and a little bit rainy. And we just want to go ahead and thank everybody for getting us back to Kennedy Space Center," Polansky said. "Discovery is a beautiful vehicle. ...This mission is really a demonstration of how well we can work as a team when we all work together for a common goal. I want to wish everybody a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year."

7:11 p.m. - In a drizzling rain at Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility, Commander Mark Polansky is leading the STS-116 crew members as they depart the Crew Transport Vehicle and are greeted by NASA Administrator Mike Griffin, Associate Administrator for Space Operations Bill Gerstenmaier, Kennedy Space Center Deputy Director Bill Parsons and several members of the European Space Agency. Parsons will soon take over as director of the Florida spaceport, since Director James Kennedy is retiring in January.

7:06 p.m. - The Crew Transport Vehicle is now backing away from the orbiter. We expect to see our astronauts shortly. The transport vehicle will be lowered on its hydraulic lifts and then the steps will come down. The crew members will then exit, and traditionally they then take a walk around the orbiter.

7:00 p.m. - Today's landing is good exercise for radar systems at the Shuttle Landing Facility, which will be made available to Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. + Read More

6:56 p.m. - This mission was a turning point for NASA: Half of the construction of the International Space Station is now complete.

Did You Know?
The Shuttle Landing Facility is located about three miles from the Vehicle Assembly Building. + Read More

6:45 p.m. - We're waiting for the crew to exit the Crew Transport Vehicle and make their way around the orbiter for one more look.

6:31 p.m. - Senior managers including NASA Administrator Mike Griffin and Associate Administrator for Space Operations Bill Gerstenmaier have gone out to the Shuttle Landing Facility to greet the crew and welcome them back after a very successful mission.

6:26 p.m. - The Astrovan will soon be backing away from Discovery. Some of the crew will take a walk around the orbiter for one last look at the ship that took them on their 5.3-million-mile journey. After that, they'll enter the Astrovan for transport back to the Operations and Checkout Building where they'll meet up with their families and receive some additional medical checks.

6:24 p.m. - A post-landing news conference is planned for about 7:30 p.m. and will be carried live on NASA TV. The entire crew has exited the orbiter.

6:11 p.m. - Discovery's crew hatch has been opened. The crew has entered the Crew Transport Vehicle which contains beds and comfortable seats so that the astronauts can receive medical checks immediately after returning to Earth.

6:10 p.m. - Capcom Ken Ham just announced to the STS-116 crew, "Discovery, your mission is done. See you back at the ranch." Commander Polanksy thanked everyone for their hard work and wished them all "Happy Holidays."

5:53 p.m. - Just about 20 minutes after touchdown at Kennedy Space Center, the crew of Discovery has been given the "go" to climb out of their orange launch and entry suits.

5:49 p.m. - Discovery received the go-ahead for APU shutdown. The external tank umbilical doors have been opened.

5:47 p.m. - Discovery has been given the "go" for GPS powerdown.

5:46 p.m. - The side hatch is safed as well.

5:42 p.m.- The Discovery crew reports that the drag chutes are safed.

5:39 p.m. - Here are some official times for this evening's landing: Main gear touchdown took place at 5:32:00 p.m. at a mission elapsed time of 12 days, 20 hours, 44 minutes and 24 seconds. Nose gear touchdown followed 12 seconds later at 5:32:12 p.m. at a mission elapsed time of 12 days, 20 hours, 44 minutes and 36 seconds. Discovery's wheels stopped on the runway at 5:32:52 p.m. at a mission elapsed time of 12 days, 20 hours, 45 minutes and 16 seconds. Discovery and the STS-116 crew traveled 5,330,000 miles during this mission and landed on the 204th orbit.

5:34 p.m. - Comm checks are being performed between Discovery and the landing support convoy at Kennedy's Shuttle Landing Facility. Post-landing safing is under way.

This convoy consists of about 25 specifically designed vehicles or units and a team of about 150 trained personnel who assist the crew in leaving the orbiter, and who "safe" the orbiter, prepare it for towing and then tow the vehicle to the Orbiter Processing Facility. The team that recovers the orbiter is primarily composed of Kennedy Space Center personnel, whether the landing takes place at Kennedy, Edwards Air Force Base or elsewhere.

5:33 p.m. - Wheel stop. Welcome home, Discovery! "Congratulations on what was probably the most complex mission to date," Mission Control said to Commander Mark Polansky for the entire crew.

5:32 p.m. - Main gear is down and locked. ...Main gear touchdown. ...Chute deployed. ...Nose gear touchdown. Discovery is rolling out at sunset on Runway 15 at Kennedy Space Center after a 5.3 million mile mission to the International Space Station.
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5:31 p.m. - Altitude 6,000 feet.

5:30 p.m. - Discovery reports that the landing field is in site. Altitutude 11,300 feet.

5:29 p.m. - The shuttle's trademark twin sonic booms just echoed across Kennedy Space Center as we await the return of Discovery on this 13 day mission to the International Space Station.

5:28 p.m. - Commander Mark Polansky is flying Discovery, taking the orbiter out over the water and setting up for the final approach to Runway 15.

5:26 p.m. - Discovery is 86 miles from home.

5:24 p.m. - The crew of the International Space Station is tracking the return of Discovery from a signal sent up from Houston.

5:23 p.m. - There are no issues with weather. So far it's a smooth entry for Discovery, which is now at 104,000 feet. Range to Kennedy Space Center is 120 miles.

5:22 p.m. - Discovery is 125 statute miles from Kennedy and only a little more than nine minutes until touchdown.

5:20 p.m. - During reentry and landing, the orbiter is not powered by engines but instead flies like a high-tech glider, relying first on its steering jets and aerosurfaces to control the airflow around it.

5:19 p.m. - The MILA Tracking station at Kennedy Space Center acquires Discovery about 13 minutes before landing and begins supplying controllers in Houston with voice, data and telemetry communications starting about one minute later. At 11 minutes before touchdown, the orbiter begins receiving navigation signals from the TACAN, the homing beacon and navigation signal at the Shuttle Landing Facility. As Discovery intercepts the heading alignment circle, the first video should become available from the pilot's point-of-view video camera and the orbiter will begin following the curved approach path of the microwave scanning beam landing system. As Discovery crosses directly overhead of the landing facility and out over the Atlantic Ocean, it makes a gradual right turn toward a 7-mile final approach to Runway 15.

5:18 p.m. - Having served its purpose, Discovery's reaction control system has been turned off.

5:17 p.m. - Discovery is now 190,000 feet above Louisiana. Range to Kennedy Space Center is 800 miles.

5:16 p.m. - Discovery is now traveling 11,200 miles per hour and tracking due north of Houston at an altitude of 195,000 feet.

5:15 p.m. - Discovery's atltitude is now 39 statute miles. The spacecraft is traveling 12,600 miles per hour as it crosses into Texas. It's 1,100 statute miles from home at the Kennedy Space Center.

5:12 p.m. - Twenty minutes to touchdown. Discovery will touch down right at sunset at 5:32 p.m.

5:11 p.m. - Discovery is skirting along the edge of the Baja Penninsula. It will continue on a northeasterly course across west Texas. The orbiter is expected to pass about within about 34 miles of Houston, swinging down the Gulf Coast of Mexico, heading toward Kennedy Space Center.

5:06 p.m. - Discovery is traveling 16,300 miles per hour, 25 minutes to touchdown.

5:03 p.m. - The orbiter will perform a series of roll maneuvers, banking first to the right and then to the left to help slow down its speed as it descends toward landing. The first roll is under way now, with the first roll reversal due at about 5:22 p.m.

5:00 p.m. - Discovery has reached entry interface.

4:58 p.m. - The orbiter is approaching the southern tip of the Baja Penninsula from the southwest. Discovery's altitude is 78 statute miles.

4:57 p.m. - In addition to the traditional runway edge and approach light system, the Shuttle Landing Facility has 16 xenon lights that produce 1 billion candlepower with an effective range of 6.2 miles. These are being turned on to light the way for Commander Mark Polansky as he brings Discovery in for a landing.

4:50 p.m. - Discovery is traveling over 16,500 miles per hour and approaching entry interface about nine and a half minutes from now. At entry interface, the orbiter begins to encounter the first effects of the Earth's atmosphere, usually at an altitude of roughly 400,000 feet.

Did You Know?
The first Kennedy Space Center landing was for mission 41-B on Feb. 11, 1984. + Read More

4:42 p.m. - The convey of landing support vehicles is moving to the staging point at the Shuttle Landing Facility.

4:39 p.m. - Surface winds are predicted to be a direct headwind of 16 knots peaking up to 24 knots, but wind from this direction is not considered an issue for landing. The propellant dump took approximately 60 seconds.

4:35 p.m. - The Discovery crew is now maneuvering the shuttle to the best position for landing on Runway 15 at Kennedy. We're less than an hour from touchdown.

4:30 p.m. - And Mission Control confirms a good burn of Discovery's two orbital maneuvering system engines, with no trim required. After nearly two weeks in space, Discovery and crew are headed home to Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

4:26 p.m. - DEORBIT BURN! We have two good engines burning as Discovery begins its descent toward home. The burn will last for three minutes and 46 seconds.

4:20 p.m. - In Mission Control, Houston, the poll has been conducted and the Flight Team has given the go for deorbit burn.

"Believe it or not, we're going to give you the go for the deorbit burn," said Capcom Ken Ham to Mark Polansky and his crew aboard Discovery. "We have worked this one as hard as we can and we are pretty confident we are going to keep you clear of clouds and rain."
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Polansky replied, "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."

So after an afternoon of very dynamic weather conditions, Discovery will indeed be returning home to Kennedy Space Center. Deorbit burn will take place at 4:26 p.m. and landing is set for 5:32 p.m.

4:19 p.m. - We are standing by to hear the "go/no-go" decision for the deorbit burn. The burn is coming up at 4:26 p.m., so we should find out shortly if Discovery's crew receives the go-ahead.

4:16 p.m. - Time to deorbit burn: 10 minutes 20 seconds. Flight control is receiving one final weather report. Stay tuned.

4:12 p.m. - The flight control team is continuing to look at the radar, which reveals showers moving towards the Kennedy Space Center. The showers are dissipating as it comes closer to the landing circle, so the discussion centers on whether or not the showers will still be there in an hour and 20 minutes when Discovery would be approaching for landing.

4:10 p.m. - With under 17 minutes left to go before deorbit burn for the Kennedy Space Center, Mission Control is in constant communication with astronaut Steve Lindsey regarding the weather at "the Cape."

4:06 p.m. - The Shuttle Landing Facility at Kennedy has been cleared of all non-essential personnel.

4:00 p.m. - The runway of choice would be Runway 15 at Kennedy's Shuttle Landing Facility, with an approach from the northwest and a high overhead left hand turn over the water. The landing time for this opportunity, which would come on orbit 203 for the STS-116 mission, would be 5:32 p.m.

3:54 p.m. - Capcom Ken Ham just informed the Discovery crew that they are no-go for Edwards due to winds. New coordinates will be given to the crew shortly for a possible Kennedy landing. Stay tuned.

3:50 p.m. - Pilot Bill Oefelein has been given the "go" for APU (auxiliary power unit) prestart.

3:47 p.m. - At Edwards Air Force Base in California, the landing convoy is beginning to move into position for the possible arrival of shuttle Discovery. Meanwhile, the entry team in Houston is still evaluating the weather at Edwards and at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The main issue with the Florida landing opportunity are the showers within the area, and where they will be at landing time.

3:44 p.m. - As the crew steps through the entry checklist, Mission Control just gave the go-ahead to do a gimble check of Discovery's two orbital maneuvering system engines, which will fire during the deorbit burn.

Did You Know?
If the orbiter lands anywhere other than Kennedy Space Center, it must be ferried back atop the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft to the Shuttle Landing Facility at Kennedy. The mate/demate device at the facility enables the orbiter to be lifted off the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft and placed on the runway.
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3:24 p.m. - Mission Control is advising the Discovery crew of the preliminary advisory data, or "PAD," for a landing at Edwards. The update includes specific information regarding the engine burn, APU start and mission elapsed time.

3:13 p.m. - In Mission Control, Capcom Ken Ham is giving the crew a weather briefing. The winds at Edwards are becoming more favorable, so they may be able to land there after all. They've also been given the "go" for fluid loading, in which they drink large amounts of fluids to help them re-acclimate to Earth's gravity after landing. Each crew member drinks approximately 32 ounces of fluid -- about eight ounces every fifteen minutes -- and takes salt pills to help increase their fluid volume. Crew members can choose to drink chicken consomme, orange-aid or water.

3:05 p.m. - If we land at Edwards Air Force Base, a ferry flight could take place after about 7 days. A ferry flight from White Sands could result in a turnaround time of 25-45 days.

2:50 p.m. - Out at Edwards, astronaut Dom Gorie is taking off in the Shuttle Training Aircraft to guage the turbulence in the area. He will fly the aircraft, which mimics the flying quality of the space shuttle, to both ends of the runway -- but the anticipation is that the approach to Runway 04 will be the preference for today's landing due to the sun angle at that time.

2:40 p.m. - Yesterday during their final press conference from orbit, Commander Mark Polansky was asked about the possibility of landing in New Mexico. He said, "My wife cares where we land. I believe she and the other families will be going to Florida, and on a personal note it's always nice to go where the families are. And for processing, Florida is best, but besides that, we don't care. There are a lot of things they're supposed to control on the mission, but the weather is one that they can't."

Did You Know
There are six main events in the landing sequence: deorbit burn, entry interface, maximum heating, exit blackout, terminal area and approach and landing.

2:18 p.m. - Here at Kennedy Space Center, astronaut Steve Lindsey is refueling the Shuttle Training Aircraft and will be back in the air shortly, continuing to monitor the weather conditions at the spaceport.

2:04 p.m. - Ken Ham just informed the crew that we've officially waved off the first landing opportunity at Kennedy Space Center, and the second opportunity isn't looking much better, although they haven't ruled it out yet.
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"We are going to stay in the deorbit prep check list at this time," Ham explained. "We will likely be setting up our TIG for Edwards," he said, referring to the deorbit burn time for the first Edwards landing opportunity. (TIG stands for "time of ignition.") Of course, this is just for planning; the "go/no-go" decision for the burn won't come for a while. Stay tuned.

2:00 p.m. - Good afternoon. Thanks for joining today's coverage, coming to you from the NASA News Center at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Discovery is set to land today after a complex but successful mission to the International Space Station. There are several landing opportunities today at Kennedy, Edwards Air Force Base in California, and White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico. Kennedy is the preferred landing site, but weather is a major concern here this afternoon, with low cloud ceilings, high winds and possible showers threatening to prevent a Florida landing. The forecast for Edwards calls for high winds. So far, White Sands has the best outlook for today's landing. Only one other shuttle flight has landed there, and that was STS-3 on March 30, 1982.

At this time, the Mission Control team in Houston and the crew aboard Discovery are preparing for a deorbit burn at 2:49 p.m., which would bring the spacecraft home to Kennedy at 3:56 p.m., but the final "go/no-go" decision for the burn has not yet been made.

Capcom Ken Ham recently told the crew that the new word to describe the weather situation at Kennedy is "unstable." An area of showers has popped up to the south and is heading north, and could potentially be within the 30-mile landing circle.

Although the forecast is certainly not promising, "we'd like to keep the hope alive for now," Ham said, adding that the crew should hold off on fluid loading for the time being.

The following events took place prior to the start of today's landing coverage:

This afternoon at 12:30 p.m., Discovery's payload bay doors were closed and locked in preparation for landing. Mission Control gave the crew a "go" to transition to the onboard computers' software package that is used for entry and landing.

The crew members began climbing into their orange launch and entry suits at 1:14 p.m. Commander Mark Polansky and Pilot Bill Oefelein were first, followed by Flight Engineer Thomas Reiter of the European Space Agency, and Mission Specialists Robert Curbeam, Joan Higginbotham, Nicholas Patrick and Christer Fuglesang, also of the European Space Agency.

After getting suited up, they took their seats. + View Seating Assignments

Astronaut Steve Lindsey is flying weather reconnaissance at Kennedy in the Shuttle Training Aircraft and relaying weather information in real time to Mission Control. There are astronauts flying weather reconnaissance at the other possible landing sites as well: Dom Gorie at Edwards and Brent Jett at Northrup Strip in White Sands.

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