With weather conditions forecast to be favorable, Discovery is on
course toward a 1 p.m. Central time landing today at the Kennedy Space
Center, Florida, to bring home astronaut Andy Thomas after more than
four months in orbit and end NASA's Shuttle-Mir program.
This morning, only a few hours before landing, Chang-Diaz will end
scientific operations with the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS)
instrument mounted in the shuttle's cargo bay. The AMS, an innovative
particle detector hoped to provide insight into the existence of dark
matter and antimatter in the universe, has recorded more than 100
hours of observations during the flight.
In preparation for a 1 p.m. landing, the crew will close Discovery's
payload bay doors at 9:12 a.m. Central. A final "go" for landing from
Mission Control Entry Flight Director Wayne Hale would be given at
about 11:30 a.m., and the shuttle's engines would fire at 11:52
a.m. to begin the descent to Florida. Although it is not expected to
be needed, a second landing opportunity also is available today that
would have Discovery fire its engines at 1:29 p.m. leading to a
landing in Florida at 2:36 p.m. Central.
A landing today would culminate 977 total days spent in orbit by the
seven U.S. astronauts who have stayed aboard Mir since the Shuttle-Mir
program began. Of those, 907 days were spent as actual Mir crew
members. Today's landing would be the end of an 812-day continuous
U.S. presence in space.
Following a 1 p.m. touchdown, a post-landing press conference would
be broadcast on NASA television at about 2:30 p.m. Central. The STS-91
crew would spend the night in Florida and return to Houston at about 8
p.m. Saturday, arriving at Ellington Field's NASA Hangar 990.
The next STS-91 status report will be issued post-landing, or at 6
p.m. CDT today.
The shuttle Discovery glided out of a cloud-speckled sky and rolled
to a smooth landing at the Kennedy Space Center.to wrap up its 10-day,
3.8-million-mile mission to pick up the final U.S. astronaut from the
Russian Mir Space Station.
Commander Charlie Precourt piloted Discovery to an on-time touchdown
on runway 1-5 at the Florida spaceport's 3-mile-long landing strip at
1:00 p.m. Central time. Astronaut Andy Thomas sat in Discovery's
middeck in a special recumbent seat to help ease his initial exposure
to gravity. Thomas returned to Earth after 141 days in space, 130 of
which were served as a crewmember aboard Mir. He traveled about 56.4
million miles during his time in space.
Thomas' return to Earth marks the end of a consecutive 812-day
U.S. presence in space and 802 consecutive days on the Mir by a
U.S. astronaut. Since 1995, seven U.S. astronauts - Norm Thagard,
Shannon Lucid, John Blaha, Jerry Linenger, Mike Foal, David Wolf and
Andy Thomas - spent a total of 907 days as Mir crew members.
Left behind on the orbiting Russian outpost when Discovery undocked
on June 8 were Mir 25 Commander Talgat Musabayev and Flight Engineer
Nikolai Budarin. They are scheduled to return to Earth next August,
to be replaced by another cosmonaut team.
The astronauts are scheduled to spend the night at the Kennedy Space
Center before flying back to Houston Saturday evening. Crew return at
Ellington Field is scheduled for about 8 p.m. Central time Saturday.