Friday, April 09, 2010

Shuttle Discovery's Mission Extended An Extra Day

Discovery's astronauts will remain at the International Space Station an extra day to perform a shuttle heat shield inspection while they are still at the outpost, and their return to Kennedy Space Center will be pushed back a day as a result.

NASA mission managers extended the Discovery flight by a day. Landing at KSC now is tapped for Monday, April 19.

Shuttle astronauts typically perform a heat-shield inspection after departure from the station. But Discovery's high data rate Ku-band antenna failed to activate after the astronauts reached orbit last Monday. Consequently, the shuttle crew has been using the station's Ku-band antenna to beam large amounts of data down to Earth. Data from the heat-shield inspection done on the second day of the flight was downlinked through the station Ku-band antenna system.

The decision will enable Discovery's astronauts to finish all planned work at the station while ensuring NASA will have the most up-to-date information on the condition of the shuttle before committing the ship and its crew to atmospheric reentry.

The heat-shield inspections are a safety measure instituted after Columbia and its seven astronauts were lost in an ill-fated atmospheric reentry in February 2003. Heat-shield damage that went undetected led to the accident.

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