Last Shuttle Flight Is Barely A Year Away
Space shuttle Discovery and its crew of seven astronauts ended a
14-day journey of more than 5.7 million miles with a 5:53 p.m. PDT
landing Friday at Edwards Air Force Base in California (which
sounded great where I was sitting near Ventura Beach--E-I-C).
The mission, designated STS-128, delivered two
refrigerator-sized science racks to the International Space
Station. One rack will be used to conduct experiments on materials
such as metals, glasses and ceramics. The results from these
experiments could lead to the development of better materials on
Earth. The other rack will be used for fluid physics research.
Understanding how fluids react in microgravity could lead to
improved designs for fuel tanks, water systems and other
STS-128 Commander Rick Sturckow was joined on the mission by
Pilot Kevin Ford, Mission Specialists Pat Forrester, Jose
Hernandez, Danny Olivas and European Space Agency astronaut
Christer Fuglesang. NASA astronaut Nicole Stott flew to the complex
aboard Discovery to begin a nearly three-month mission as a station
resident, replacing Tim Kopra, who returned home on Discovery.
Weather concerns prevented the crew from returning to NASA's
Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the primary end-of-mission landing
site. In seven to 10 days, Discovery will be transported
approximately 2,500 miles from California to Florida on the back of
a modified 747 jumbo jet. Once at Kennedy, Discovery will be
separated from the aircraft to begin processing for its next
flight, targeted for March 2010.
In addition to carrying a new station crew member, Discovery and
the crew also delivered a new sleeping compartment, an air
purification system and a treadmill named after comedian Stephen
Colbert. The mission included three spacewalks that replaced
experiments outside the European Space Agency's Columbus laboratory
and an empty ammonia storage tank. Ammonia is needed to move excess
heat from inside the station to the radiators located outside.
Disney's toy astronaut Buzz Lightyear also returned from the
space station aboard Discovery. He flew to the station in May 2008
on shuttle Discovery's STS-124 mission and served as the longest
tenured "crew member" in space. While on the station, Buzz
supported NASA's education outreach by creating a series of online
educational outreach programs.
With Discovery and its crew safely home, the stage is set for
the launch of shuttle Atlantis on its STS-129 mission. Atlantis'
liftoff currently is targeted for Nov.12, although shuttle and
station teams are assessing Nov. 9 as a potential launch date. The
flight will focus on storing important spare hardware on the
station's exterior. The 11-day flight will include three spacewalks
and the installation of two platforms to the station's truss, or
backbone. Atlantis also will bring Stott back to Earth.
Stott and STS-128 astronaut Hernandez are providing updates on