Monday, April 19, 2010

Discovery crew hopes to return home today

Discovery's crew of seven astronauts is awake and feeling patriotic as it begins preparations to land today at Kennedy Space Center, weather permitting.

At 12:21 a.m., NASA's Mission Control Center in Houston played the "Star-Spangled Banner" as the crew's daily wake-up tune, selected by the family of shuttle commander Alan Poindexter.

"Thanks for that rousing edition of our national anthem," Poindexter radioed. "It's a great day to be in space, and were hopefully looking to have some good weather and perhaps get home today."

Rain is falling early today at the shuttle home port, and will be monitored by flight controllers throughout the morning as Discovery seeks to touch down first at 8:48 a.m. EDT, or later at 10:23 a.m.

The most recent forecasts on Sunday predicted showers that would violate landing rules by encroaching within 30 nautical miles of KSC's runway.

There's plenty of time for conditions to improve, but Megan McArthur, an astronaut communicating with the crew from Houston, indicated there hasn't been much change in the outlook so far.

"I don't suppose the weather forecast has changed a whole lot for Florida has it this morning?" Poindexter asked.

"It doesn't look like it has changed," McArthur replied. "The entry guys will be here in just a couple of hours and I know they'll be looking at that real closely for you."

Bryan Lunney, the flight director overseeing Discovery's atmospheric re-entry, is due to get a weather briefing at 3:28 a.m., shortly before the astronauts are due to officially begin deorbit preparations.

Discovery's payload bay doors are to be closed at 5:03 a.m. -- an early indication of whether managers think there's a chance to make the first landing opportunity.

If given a "go," Discovery would fire its orbital maneuvering engines for three minutes at 7:43 a.m. to start the hour-long plunge through the atmosphere.

For the second landing attempt, the deorbit burn would occur at 9:17 a.m.

Discovery will follow an unusual path home, flying southeast over the continental United States for just the second time since the Columbia accident in 2003.

Discovery launched April 5 and is set to complete a 14-day International Space Station resupply mission. Take a closer look at today's schedule in this updated NASA TV schedule and the Flight Day 15 Execute Package e-mailed to the crew.

We'll have live coverage all morning of today's landing attempts. You can sign up here for text alerts, which we'll begin after 7 a.m.

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