NASA pleasure with beautiful Discovery

by Chris Bergin

STS-116 commander Mark Polansky and NASA’s top management team have spoken about their pride in how the hugely successful mission was carried out, praising all the workforce involved with the flight, and Discovery herself.

The 13 day mission ended with the safe return of the veteran orbiter – her 33rd flight – in a flawless re-entry that sources are already claiming was the quietest of all re-entries and landings by an orbiter to date.

**Over 2300mb of STS-116 onwards related presentions and mission documentation available on L2 ** Full Late Inspection and Orbiter review presentations and the full live events of re-entry, as NASA managers and controllers saw them, also on L2, plus over 800 meg of super HQ re-entry and landing video.

**Re-live Discovery STS-116 – FOR EACH FLIGHT DAY** – 100,000s of visitors over the mission. The largest collection of STS-116 mission updates anywhere on the net.

In total, only a grand total of two minor issues were noted by Mission Control during the ride home, one being a temporary GPS issue – caused by plasma interference, the other being a speed brake actuator reading off scale low – which is thought to have been a data drop out on instrumentation.

‘Discovery sailed home like the trooper she is,’ said one source after leaving the Mission Control Center in Houston tonight. ‘Re-entry is never an easy ride, but she took it on and kept on smiling all the way home. A perfect end to a perfect mission.’

Landing at KSC was also a huge bonus for the processing for her next flight – STS 122 in October of next year. While the mission is a full 10 months away, the need to keep on track with the processing schedule was vital for the modification she will now undergo.

That involves the SSPTS (Station-Shuttle Power Transfer System) modification, which will allow orbiters to stay docked at the ISS (International Space Station) for up to 12 days – a 40 percent increase from the current restrictions.

Those restrictions came into play on STS-116, as the mission required an extra day for the fourth EVA that completed the retraction of a solar array on the P6 truss.

The modification – which includes a $70m upgrade on the ISS – will also be used for Orion, allowing the visiting space vehicles to rely less on their own fuel cells, as the ability to draw power from the ISS comes into play.

The SSPTS mod is currently being installed on Endeavour for her return to mission status on STS-118 in June of next year, as she heads back into the fold from a major modification period. Atlantis will forgo the modification, as she closes in on her 2008 retirement date.

Had the weather continued to rule out Edwards Air Force base and KSC, Discovery would have been forced to take up the option of landing at White Sands. NASA admitted the issue of turnaround was their main concern, with a full two months being a distinct possibility in returning her to KSC for post launch processing.

**Ride home through the fire and plasma of re-entry with Atlantis – Stunning 2hr, 355mb video – from deorbit burn to post landing**

Commander Polansky was more than aware of the significance of being able to bring Discovery back to her home base, allowing her to return to the OPF (Orbiter Processing Facility) the same day, without the delay of waiting to eventually arrive back to Florida on the back of a Shuttle Carrier Aircraft.

‘I’d like to thank everybody for getting us back to the Kennedy Space Center. Discovery is a beautiful vehicle and we’re happy that we got to bring her home safely and that she can process here at KSC for her next mission,’ said the commander, who was also full of praise for everyone involved in the Shuttle program for their successful mission.

‘We want to thank everybody involved as we’ll be saying this a lot, that this mission is really a demonstration of how well we can work as a team at NASA when the ground folks, the contractors, the crew, the flight directors and the control teams work together for a common goal, and I think we demonstrated what happens in a case like that.’

Praise was also forthcoming from the top of NASA, as the agency’s administrator Mike Griffin spoke with some of the passion he has previously joked he lacks.

‘The Shuttle burst out of the clouds and swished on to the runway,’ said Griffin, rather poetically. ‘It was a great landing and a great day. The crew on orbit and the crew on the ground could not have done better. It’s a wonder day and a wonderful end to the mission. I’m proud to be here.’

NASA launch director Mike Leinbach, who led the NASA team that successfully launched Discovery earlier in the month – against all odds due to the ever-changing weather and additional technical difficulties – also emphasized the importance of Discovery landing at KSC, which will in turn will allow all orbiter processing workers to have the Christmas break away from work.

‘On behalf of the Kennedy Space Center, Christmas came three days early for us,’ said Leinbach. ‘It’s great to have Discovery out on our runway. The team was jubilant to have Discovery come home.

‘Meanwhile, over in the OPF, Atlantis’ processing is going great. We’re going to take the whole Christmas break off with Atlantis and also Endeavour. Discovery, once we get her back in the OPF, will go through a few days of safing to be able to give the whole team the Christmas off.

‘So it was a great day, a great Christmas present and it feels good to be in this program.’

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