Dec
21
2006

Space shuttle preparing to return home

Image of Discovery: This image of Space Shuttle Discovery was taken by a miniature satellite that was released from Discovery's payload bay on Wednesday.  Image courtesy NASA TV.
Image of Discovery: This image of Space Shuttle Discovery was taken by a miniature satellite that was released from Discovery's payload bay on Wednesday. Image courtesy NASA TV.

The space shuttle Discovery is preparing to land tomorrow at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Preparations for landing include checking out flight systems and jets as well as stowing and securing equipment.

Along with this activity, the shuttle crew will be launching a small satellite designed to measure the density and composition of the low-Earth orbit atmosphere while being tracked from the ground. The information that this Atmospheric Neutral Density Experiment satellite with gather will be used to help predict the movement of objects in orbit. Earlier in the mission a satellite the size of a coffee cup was deployed to demonstrate the use of small low-power inspection satellites that can be sent out to observe larger spacecraft.

Concerns about weather at Kennedy Space Center and a unique schedule that was the result of an unplanned spacewalk to fix a solar panel on the International Space Station could result in the shuttle landing at the White Sands Space Harbor landing strip for the first time in 24 years.

The last time, and only time, a shuttle landed at White Sands, the sand that gives the area its name resulted in days of additional work to clean the shuttle. In addition, the site lacks the equipment at Kennedy Space Center, and the primary back up, California’s Edwards Air Force Base where 50 of the shuttle’s 114 landings have taken place. Low clouds and rain are forecasted for Kennedy Space Center, and crosswinds are the problem at Edwards Air Force Base. The shuttle has to land before Sunday when it will run out of the fuel it needs to generate power. As a result of this schedule crunch, all three locations will be prepped for the first landing opportunity on Friday. There are seven landing windows starting with the first opportunity on Friday. The shuttle crew trains in a jet that mimics the shuttle over White Sands, so they are at least familiar with the area if a landing there is necessary.

If you are a space geek like me, or even if you are just a little interested, NASA does a lot of things that I think are cool surrounding shuttle flights.

They have tons of video material including the launch, views from the solid rocket boosters, space walks, messages from the crew and more. You can even subscribe to these as podcasts! I would suspect that the NASA web pages for this mission will be kept up to date as the status of the landings are determined. Stay tuned!

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Before it runs out of fuel? How long can it usually go before needing to refuel?

posted on Thu, 12/21/2006 - 6:07pm

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