Sunday, March 29, 2009

Aerospace: Shuttle Discovery returns safely

Space shuttle Discovery and its crew landed at 3:14 p.m. EDT Saturday at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, completing a 13-day journey of more than 5.3 million miles.

The STS-119 flight delivered the space station's fourth and final set of solar array wings, completing the station's truss, or backbone. The additional electricity provided by the arrays will fully power science experiments and help support station operations.

During three spacewalks, astronauts installed the S6 truss segment to the starboard, or right, side of the station and accomplished important tasks to prepare the station for future upgrades and additions later this year.

The flight also replaced a failed unit for a system that converts urine to potable water. Samples from the station's Water Recovery System will be analyzed. It's expected to take about a month for the analysis to be completed and the water to be cleared for the station crew to drink.

STS-119 spacewalkers were unable to deploy a jammed external cargo carrier on the Port 3 truss segment. It was tied safely in place. Because the issue is not yet understood, Mission Control cancelled the installation of a similar payload attachment system on the starboard side. Engineers are evaluating the problem and will address it during a future spacewalk.

On March 24, the 10 shuttle and station crew members gathered in the station's Harmony module and spoke to President Barack Obama, members of Congress and school children from the Washington, D.C. area. From the White House's Roosevelt Room, the president and his guests congratulated the crew on the mission and asked about a range of topics including sleeping in weightlessness to the station's travelling speed.

Lee Archambault commanded the flight and was joined by Pilot Tony Antonelli and Mission Specialists Joseph Acaba, Steve Swanson, Richard Arnold, John Phillips and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Koichi Wakata. Wakata remained aboard the station, replacing Flight Engineer Sandra Magnus, who returned to Earth on Discovery after more than four months on the station.

Acaba and Arnold are former science teachers who are now fully-trained NASA astronauts. They made their first journey into orbit and conducted critical spacewalking tasks on this flight. STS-119 was the 125th space shuttle mission, the 36th flight for Discovery and the 28th shuttle visit to the station.

With Discovery and its crew safely home, the stage is set for the launch of STS-125, targeted for May 12. Atlantis' mission will return the space shuttle to NASA's Hubble Space Telescope for one last visit before the shuttle fleet retires in 2010. Over 11 days and five spacewalks, Atlantis' crew will upgrade the telescope, preparing it for at least another five years of research.

Source: NASA
Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
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