Volume: 03, Issue: 16 08/10/2005 
Discovery lands at Edwards Air Force Base in California at 8:11 a.m. EDT. Image courtesy Carla Thomas/NASA.
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Mission managers applaud the successful landing of Space Shuttle Discovery at Edwards Air Force Base in California. Image courtesy Bill Ingalls/NASA.
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The sun rises on the Space Shuttle Discovery as it rests on the runway at Edwards Air Force Base, California, after a safe landing to complete the STS-114 mission. Image courtesy Carla Thomas/NASA.
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The STS-114 crew (l-r): Mission Specialist Stephen Robinson, Commander Eileen Collins, Mission Specialists Andrew Thomas, Wendy Lawrence, Soichi Noguchi and Charles Camarda, and Pilot James Kelly. Image courtesy Jim Ross/NASA.
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Other Articles in This Issue:
Scientists Discover Tenth Planet
Cassini Continues to Explore the Unknown
Spitzer Finds Hungry Black Holes
Put Your Astronomy Skills Into Practice
 

Discovery Returns to Earth

Before the sun rose over California on Aug. 9, 2005, Space Shuttle Discovery glided to a gentle touchdown at Edwards Air Force Base, ending a 14-day, 5.8 million-mile journey in space. Discovery's mission, the first of two Return to Flight test missions following the 2003 Columbia accident, was one of the most complex space flights in NASA history.

"We have had a fantastic mission," said Commander Eileen Collins shortly after the crew disembarked from the Shuttle. "We brought Discovery back in great shape. This is a wonderful moment for us all to experience."

The STS-114 crew included Collins, Jim Kelly, Charlie Camarda, Wendy Lawrence, Steve Robinson, Andy Thomas, and Soichi Noguchi of JAXA, the Japanese space agency. They completed several innovative tasks while in orbit, including intricate in-orbit maneuvers, tests of new equipment and procedures, and a first-of-its-kind spacewalking repair.

After lifting off from Kennedy Space Center on July 26, the crew tested new capabilities and techniques developed over the past two-and-a-half years to inspect and possibly repair the Space Shuttle in orbit. Collins guided Discovery through an unprecedented back flip maneuver as it approached the International Space Station. The maneuver allowed the Station crew to snap high-resolution photos that added to the wealth of new data mission managers used to ensure Discovery was in good shape to come home.

Robinson and Noguchi, with the help of crewmates, completed three spacewalks. The astronauts repaired one Space Station Control Moment Gyroscope and replaced another. Their efforts put all four of the Station's gyros back into service. They also tested new repair techniques for the Space Shuttle's heat-shielding outer skin and installed equipment outside the Station.

When two thermal protection tile gap-fillers were spotted jutting out of Discovery's underside, astronauts and ground-based experts devised a plan to prevent the protrusions from causing higher temperatures upon Shuttle re-entry. Ground controllers sent plans to the Shuttle-Station complex for Robinson to ride the Station robotic arm beneath the Shuttle and pluck out the gap-fillers. Work on the Shuttle underbelly had never been tried before, but with Thomas coordinating, Lawrence and Kelly operating the robotic arms, and fellow spacewalker Noguchi keeping watch, Robinson delicately completed the extraction.

Discovery's astronauts and the Station crew, Russian Sergei Krikalev and American John Phillips, transferred more than 12,000 pounds of equipment and supplies to the Station. Discovery returned about 7,000 pounds of Station material back to Earth.

Over the next several weeks, engineers will process data from STS-114, the first of two test missions for the Space Shuttle. Teams are already at work looking into why a large piece of foam fell off the External Tank during ascent. NASA managers have committed to understanding why the foam came off the tank, and remedying it if necessary, before clearing the next Space Shuttle Return to Flight test mission, STS-121, for flight.

For more about the Return to Flight mission, visit http://www.nasa.gov/returntoflight .

    
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