Discovery’s return – a dynamic day

by Chris Bergin

Discovery is on her way home – literally – after NASA managers gave clearance for the orbiter and crew of STS-116 to land at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida.

In what proved to be the dynamic day as predicted, the weather was evaluated and changed throughout the final hours, ahead of the deorbit burn.

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In what is being classed as a ‘dynamic day,’ Discovery’s first opportunity will be at KSC, landing on runway 15. Now this attempt has been waived off.

An update to the weather situation was relayed to Discovery’s crew at 11am Eastern (4pm UK), by CAPCOM Ken Ham – himself an experience shuttle astronaut.

‘If you remember our discussion yesterday about the forecast for today, there’s very little change,’ said Ham.

‘The only difference is at the Cape, where the winds are a little stronger than expected right down the runway – so we’re looking at energy closely there. However, as far as forecasts of showers and rain, the forecast remains the same.
‘But is certainly looks possible for today (to land at KSC) and we’re going to continue to march towards that.’

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

A landing at KSC would save NASA a number of ground processing headaches, mainly related to the turnaround time it would take to transport the orbiter back to her home OPF (Orbiter Processing Facility) at KSC. A landing at Edwards would take around a week, while a return from White Sands could take up to two months.

Noting the weather at the other landing sites on the west coast, Ham reiterated that White Sands remains the most favorable destination for Discovery, as Edwards remains red due to unacceptable wind strength.
‘Out on the west coast, that weather front we talked about has moved through Edwards a little quicker than we thought and is progressing towards White Sands a little more quickly,’ said Ham. ‘However, the weather forecasts essentially remain the same as well.’

Discovery will land today, baring a technical issue during the deorbit preparations, but where she will land is going to come down to the wire.
‘Copy that! It’s going to be a dynamic day for you guys,’ said Discovery’s commander Mark Polansky.

A further update at 1:30pm Eastern noted the weather situation at KSC was classed as ‘unstable’ – but that they werecontinuing to press ahead with the first landing attempt in Florida. This first attempt has now been waived off.

Winds are still an issue at Edwards, while White Sands is currently acceptable. Edwards had since improved, before worsening again.

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