5 p.m. CDT Saturday, July 15, 2006
Mission Control Center, Houston, Texas
STS-121 MCC Status Report #23
The Space Shuttle Discovery is on its way home with six astronauts on board, one fewer than when it launched 11 days ago.
The delivery of European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Reiter to join Expedition 13 on the International Space Station was one of the major goals achieved on this second return to flight shuttle mission. Discovery is now aiming for an 8:14 a.m. CDT Monday landing at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The shuttle astronauts said goodbye to Reiter and his crewmates, Station Commander Pavel Vinogradov and Flight Engineer Jeff Williams, and Commander Steve Lindsey and Pilot Mark Kelly reported the hatches between the two ships closed at 3:15 a.m. CDT. Astronauts Lisa Nowak and Stephanie Wilson completed a leak check in the docking vestibule while Mike Fossum and Piers Sellers installed a centerline camera in the hatch window.
With Kelly at the controls, Discovery released its grip on the station at 5:08 a.m. CDT and springs pushed the two ships apart. Kelly guided the shuttle away to a distance of 400 feet and fired thrusters to separate the vicinity of the complex. A second engine firing, 50 minutes after undocking while above and behind the station, set Discovery on course that now has it about 46 miles behind the station and opening the distance slowly. No other shuttle engine firings are planned before it fires its engines to begin the descent to Earth Monday morning.
After Discovery left the station, the shuttle crew used the robotic arm and boom sensors to thoroughly inspect the starboard wing and nose cap heat shield, looking for damage from orbital debris. A similar survey of the port wing was conducted yesterday. After the nose cap survey, the boom was berthed along the starboard sill of the payload bay and the robot arm was powered down.
Mission managers reviewing the latest heat shield inspections of Discovery have found no concerns so far, and the analysis is continuing. Discovery is planned to fire its engines to deorbit at 7:07 a.m. CDT Monday. That is the first of two opportunities for landing on Monday at Kennedy. A second opportunity begins with a deorbit engine firing at 8:43 a.m. CDT leading to a landing at 9:50 am. CDT. The next STS-121 status report will be issued early Sunday.