‘Beautiful’ Discovery arrives home

by Chris Bergin

Discovery has arrived back at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, following a two day trip across the United States on the back of a Shuttle Carrier Aircraft.

Discovery Astronaut Steve Robinson welcomed her home after a victory lap around the NASA facility – saying he had to watch the “beautiful bird” arrive back “where she belongs – with the people who take care of her”

Discovery left Edwards Air Force base in California on Friday – stopping over at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana for re-fuelling.

After waiting for the right weather conditions, Discovery and her SCA finally made it back home to KSC on Sunday, but not before a victory lap around the expanse of the space port on Florida’s east coast.

Waiting for her at KSC was Robinson, who gave her a hero’s welcome in front of the media that had been less than positive during the mission they shared – STS-114.

“I spent 34 days in this vehicle in my life,” said Robinson, who didn’t hold back on the emotion he feels for the space ship that he has flown on several times.

Robinson also performed a famous space walk in removing two gap fillers from the belly of Discovery, before claiming “This big patient is cured.” 

“As much as a person can love a machine, I really love that bird,” added Robinson, who no doubt has Discovery’s thanks as well.

“Look at this magnificent site, back where she belongs with the people who take care of her. I want to thank the folks who lent us this orbiter. We took as good as care of her as we possibly could.”

Discovery has twice led NASA’s Return to Flight after the loss of one of her sisters – STS-26 following the loss of Challenger during assent and after Columbia’s demise during re-entry in 2003.

With STS-114 being a test flight – many in the media failed to grasp the vast amounts of data collection that was installed into Discovery’s mission – data which showed events that have happened on most previous mission, yet were focused on in such detail the media tended to wrongly think along the terms that new faults were being found.

Robinson made sure he gave his opinion on the mission.

“Discovery was virtually perfect on this mission,” he added. “I just had to come back to see this beautiful bird come back to this runway,”

Looking a little worn from her eventful mission, Discovery will now return to her hanger – know as an Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF) for a deserved rest and clean up before processing starts once again.

Discovery – rather than sister Atlantis – will get the next launch, in March 2006, as NASA work on solving foam liberation concerns with areas of the External Tank, in the hope that regular missions will the norm for next year as the fleet aim to finishing the construction of the International Space Station before a well-deserved retirement in 2010.

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