Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Live: Flyaround complete, Discovery jets away

Space shuttle Discovery has fired its engines for the first of two burns intended to separate it from the vicinity of the International Space Station, after pilot Kevin Ford flawlessly guided the orbiter through a three-quarter loop of the station.

Mission controllers described the flyaround's path and fuel use as "textbook," despite Ford not having available six small steering jets that would normally have been used, because of a fuel leak early in the mission.

The maneuver allowed shuttle crew members to take photographs that will help engineers on the ground assess the station's exterior condition.

It provided stunning views of the space station as it receded. What at first appeared to be a indistinct, brilliantly lit metal form gradually gained focus as the sprawling complex came into full view, revealing its various modules, an angled robotic arm and long solar array wings.

Camera views from the station showed the shuttle swinging around, with the Leonardo cargo module visible near the back of its open payload bay along with the robotic arm and boom that will be used for an upcoming inspection of heat shields. First dark space, then the blue Earth served as a backdrop.

"We were all glued to the windows," station flight engineer Mike Barratt radioed to mission controllers.

The first Reaction Control Jet burn increased Discovery's rate by 1.5 feet per second. Another burn is planned in about 30 minutes.

A final inspection of the shuttle's wing leading edges and nose cap is scheduled to begin around 6 p.m.

The crews exchanged final farewells just before 5 p.m. and the second separation burn.

"We'd like to extend our thanks to the Expedition 20 crew for their great support and assistance during the docked mission," Discovery commander Rick "C.J." Sturckow radioed to the station crew.

"We're pretty fat with supplies now thanks to you and we're in better shape to carry on the work that we're up here to do," replied station flight engineer Mike Barratt. "You guys have a great trip home, Discovery, and it was great hosting you."

"Thakns a lot, Mike, in about 10 minutes, Kevin is going to do the (Separation)-2 burn, and we'll be outa here," said Sturckow.

"All right, you guys, godspeed you on your way home," said Barratt.

"Thank you very much, commander, for the great and warm words in all of this, and have a safe flight today," said station commander Gennady Padalka.

"Thank you, commander, and good to work with you, Gennady," replied Sturckow.

"Looking forward to seeing you on the Earth," Padalka said.

"Roger," Sturckow replied.

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