Hale: We showed the world what NASA can do – Discovery cleared

by Chris Bergin

Discovery has been cleared for re-entry, following a day of Late Inspections to her Thermal Protection System (TPS) – ahead of Wednesday’s planned return to Earth.

One of the longest ever shuttle missions will land by Thursday at the latest, while the praise of NASA management echoes around the agency and its contractors.

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The final inspections on Discovery’s TPS were conducted via a fully working OBSS sensor package. No worrying items of interest were found on the orbiter’s RCC (reinforced carbon-carbon) panels.

‘Late inspection was nominal. Management Decisions Summary notes GO For D/O (Deorbit),’ noted the MMT on Flight Day 14.

The plan is to leave the crew on orbit for one more day, which will allow for the scheduled hot fire of Discovery’s RCS (Reaction Control System) thrusters and flight control systems – ensuring all are in working order ahead of their use during re-entry and landing. This was completed during the opening hours of Flight Day 15.

While the target is to land at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) on Wednesday, on one of two landing opportunities available at 1:02 p.m. and 2:36 p.m Eastern, a delay to Thursday would be the last day Discovery would stay in space.

This insurance of bringing the crew home by Thursday at the latest – which would see all three primary landing sites being called up – is not due to consumables, but to ensuring the crew don’t become fatigued after such a long mission.

‘This has been a long mission and we might need to think about bringing them home Wednesday or Thursday somewhere,’ noted deputy shuttle manager John Shannon to the Mission Management Team (MMT).

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All three primary sites are ready to support a landing. ‘KSC: EOM (End Of Mission) convoy ready to support. Landing aids have no issue (MSBLS DME alarm resolved). Range is go – Delta launch moved to 11/10,’ noted the MMT.

‘EDW (Edwards Air Force Base: Convoy will be in place tomorrow. Landing aids ready to support. Range and airfield have no issues. Temp runway ECD 1/28/08. WSSH (White Sands Space Harbor). Minimum convoy in place. Landing aids and airfield ready to support.’

With the mission coming to a conclusion, NASA management have been heaping deserved praise on their workforce for their hard work, in what has been – notably on the P6 4B solar array repair – a huge team effort.

‘I want to congratulate the entire team on this huge effort,’ noted shuttle manager Wayne Hale to the MMT. ‘Lot of people worked night and day and this showed the world what the NASA team can do. We have received a lot of congratulations already.’

‘Thank you very much, this wasn’t the mission we planned when we started out. Definitely showed the flexibility of the team (ISS, shuttle, Engineering etc.) to step up with the problems and overcome them,’ added ISS manager Kirk Shireman to the teams at the MMT. ‘To the shuttle guys, we appreciate the risk trade you had to make.’

The only anomaly that is currently outstanding relates to the starboard SARJ (Solar Alpha Rotary Joint). However, thanks to samples of the metallic shavings, found and collected during EVA-2, progress will soon be made on what may be causing what appears to be elements of the machinery grinding against each other.

‘We are already working a plan for testing the SARJ samples to understand what it was in the starboard SARJ – (destow on the runway),’ added Shireman, pointing to immediate investigation on the metallic fillings, which will point to what element(s) of the machinery are causing the problem. Replacement parts may be sent on a future mission.

One other interesting note, which drew the attention of the MMT recently, was an ‘unidentified light source’ on Discovery’s -Y Star Tracker. However, this has since been cleared as simply a reflection from the P6 truss.

This article will be updated during the Flight Day.

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