Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Discovery set for final return home today

Discovery and its crew of six hope to return to Kennedy Space Center today, flying the shuttle toward retirement with a planned 11:57 a.m. touchdown that will end its 39th and final flight.

The most recent forecast looks promising, with scattered clouds at 3,000 and 20,000 feet, but no violations of landing rules.

The crew woke at 3:23 a.m. EST today - to the tune, "Coming Home" by Gwyneth Paltrow - to begin preparations to drop Discovery from orbit for the last time, on the mission's 13th day and 202nd orbit.

A key early milestone occurs around 8 a.m. with approval to close the orbiter's payload bay doors, a signal that flight directors are pressing forward with the first landing attempt.

If all goes well, Discovery will fire its orbital engines in the direction of travel at 10:47 a.m. to brake its speed, initiating a fiery re-entry through the atmosphere and roughly hour-long plunge back to Earth.

If weather takes a turn for the worse, a second landing attempt is available one orbit later at 1:34 p.m.

We'll have live coverage of the Discovery's final landing starting around 8 a.m. Here's a look at some of the highlights of the day's schedule:

-- 3:23 a.m.: Discovery crew awakes.
-- 6:53 a.m.: Deorbit preparations begin.
-- 8:12 a.m.: Payload bay doors closed.
-- 9:29 a.m.: Crew begins to don launch-and-entry suits.
-- 9:52 a.m.: Crew straps into seats.
-- 10:42 a.m.: “Go-No go” decision for deorbit burn.
-- 10:47 a.m.: Discovery maneuvers into position for deorbit burn.
-- 10:52 a.m.: Deorbit burn.
-- 11:44 a.m.: Merritt Island tracking station acquires Discovery signal.
-- 11:57 a.m.: Landing at Kennedy Space Center.

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