BY JUSTIN RAY
Follow the flight of space shuttle Discovery's construction mission to the International Space Station.
Additional coverage for subscribers:
LONGER LENGTH MOVIE OF DISCOVERY'S RETURN PLAY
DISCOVERY LANDS AT KENNEDY SPACE CENTER PLAY
FIRST LANDING OPPORTUNITY WAVED OFF PLAY
BEHIND THE SCENES IN MISSION CONTROL PLAY
U.S./EUROPEAN POST-LANDING NEWS CONFERENCE PLAY
COMMENTS FROM COMMANDER POLANSKY PLAY
THOMAS REITER BACK ON EARTH PLAY
REPLAY FROM WIDESCREEN PLAYALINDA TRACKER PLAY
REPLAY FROM EAST OF THE RUNWAY PLAY
REPLAY FROM WEST OF THE RUNWAY PLAY
REPLAY FROM NORTH OF THE RUNWAY PLAY
REPLAY FROM AN INFRARED CAMERA PLAY
REPLAY FROM VEHICLE ASSEMBLY BUILDING ROOF PLAY
LANDING PREVIEW NEWS CONFERENCE PLAY
CREW BRIEFED ON WEATHER AND LANDING STRATEGY PLAY
ANDE PAYLOAD DEPLOYED FROM DISCOVERY PLAY
INTERVIEWS WITH CNN, ABC AND CHALLENGER CENTER PLAY
FINAL ORBITER INSPECTIONS PERFORMED PLAY
MEPSI PAYLOAD DEPLOYED FROM DISCOVERY PLAY
RAFT PAYLOAD DEPLOYED FROM DISCOVERY PLAY
MORE: STS-116 VIDEO COVERAGE
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 23, 2006
0630 GMT (1:30 a.m. EST)
Shuttle Discovery was towed from the runway to Orbiter Processing Facility bay 3 tonight, arriving shortly before 11:30 p.m. Post-flight operations will continue in the hangar this weekend to get the vehicle safed so that workers can enjoy some time off for the holidays.
The ship's next mission is STS-122 to deliver the European Space Agency's Columbus science laboratory module to the space station. That launch is currently targeted for October.
Meanwhile, Discovery's astronauts will return to Houston on Saturday. A welcoming ceremony at Ellington Field is planned for 4:30 p.m. at NASA Hangar 276.
0023 GMT (7:23 p.m. EST Fri.)
The astronauts are heading for crew quarters to be reunited with their family members and have some dinner. They will be flying back to Houston tomorrow.
0012 GMT (7:12 p.m. EST Fri.)
Some of the astronauts have exited the Crew Transport Vehicle to chat with the officials and VIPs waiting on the runway.
0006 GMT (7:06 p.m. EST Fri.)
The Crew Transport Vehicle carrying the astronauts is driving back from the shuttle. Some of the crew is expected to take the traditional walkaround of Discovery to inspect the ship on the runway. There to welcome them is NASA Administrator Mike Griffin and other senior officials.
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 22, 2006
2322 GMT (6:22 p.m. EST)
All seven astronauts have egressed the orbiter.
2308 GMT (6:08 p.m. EST)
Discovery's crew hatch has been opened.
The Crew Transport Vehicle -- a modified airport "People Mover" -- is pulled up to the side hatch for the astronauts to enter. The CTV features beds and comfortable seats for the astronauts to receive medical checks after returning to Earth's gravity from the weightless environment of space.
2300 GMT (6:00 p.m. EST)
Dropping out of an overcast sky, the shuttle Discovery glided to a picture-perfect one-orbit-late landing today at the Kennedy Space Center, closing out a complex space station assembly mission and avoiding a feared diversion to New Mexico.
Read our full story.
2254 GMT (5:54 p.m. EST)
The vent doors are being repositioned. And the crew has been given a "go" to climb out of their entry spacesuits.
2251 GMT (5:51 p.m. EST)
Discovery's three Auxiliary Power Units have been shut down.
2250 GMT (5:50 p.m. EST)
The main engine nozzles have been repositioned, or gimbaled, to the "rain drain" orientation.
2249 GMT (5:49 p.m. EST)
On the runway, technicians are using instruments to "sniff" the shuttle's exterior to check for any hazardous vapors.
2247 GMT (5:47 p.m. EST)
Here are the landing times in Eastern Standard Time and Mission Elapsed Time:
Main Gear Touchdown
5:32:00 p.m. EST
MET: 12 days, 20 hours, 44 minutes, 24 seconds
Nose Gear Touchdown
5:32:12 p.m. EST
MET: 12 days, 20 hours, 44 minutes, 36 seconds
5:32:52 p.m. EST
MET: 12 days, 20 hours, 45 minutes, 16 seconds
2246 GMT (5:46 p.m. EST)
The side hatch pyrotechnics are now safed.
2242 GMT (5:42 p.m. EST)
The external tank umbilical doors on the shuttle's belly are being opened. And the drag chute and landing gear pyrotechnics have been safed.
2237 GMT (5:37 p.m. EST)
The crew is beginning the post-landing procedures on Discovery.
2233 GMT (5:33 p.m. EST)
WHEEL STOP. Discovery is home after 5.3 million miles and more than 200 orbits of Earth! A safe and successful sunset landing for the shuttle at its home port in the time for the holidays.
2232 GMT (5:32 p.m. EST)
Discovery is rolling down Runway 15 to complete its two-week mission that prepared the space station to power the pursuits of international science.
2232 GMT (5:32 p.m. EST)
TOUCHDOWN! Main gear touchdown. Drag chute deployed. Nose gear touchdown.
2231 GMT (5:31 p.m. EST)
Landing gear down and locked. Standing by for touchdown on Runway 15.
2231 GMT (5:31 p.m. EST)
Wings are level. Altitude 2,000 feet.
2231 GMT (5:31 p.m. EST)
Altitude 6,000 feet. The shuttle descending at a rate seven times steeper than that of a commercial airliner.
2230 GMT (5:30 p.m. EST)
Field in sight. Commander Polansky can see the runway as he guides Discovery to landing.
2230 GMT (5:30 p.m. EST)
Altitude 15,000 feet as Discovery makes the sweeping turn.
2230 GMT (5:30 p.m. EST)
The sonic booms have thundered across the Cape area, announcing the shuttle's arrival.
2229 GMT (5:29 p.m. EST)
Now two-and-a-half minutes to touchdown. Discovery is four miles in altitude.
2228 GMT (5:28 p.m. EST)
The shuttle is in the Heading Alignment Cylinder, an imaginary circle to align with Runway 15. Commander Mark Polansky is piloting Discovery through a 330-degree left-overhead turn over the Atlantic to loop around for landing on the northwest to southeast runway.
2227 GMT (5:27 p.m. EST)
Now descending through 50,000 feet. Ground tracking cameras have a good view of Discovery.
2227 GMT (5:27 p.m. EST)
The crew has been given the "go" for normal deployment of the drag chute after main gear touchdown.
2226 GMT (5:26 p.m. EST)
Discovery is 68 miles from the runway and 14 miles up.
2225 GMT (5:25 p.m. EST)
Seven minutes to touchdown. Air data probes are being deployed from the shuttle's nose to feed air speed, altitude and angle of attack information to the computers for navigation.
2224 GMT (5:24 p.m. EST)
Discovery is 120 miles from the runway, traveling 20 miles in altitude at 2,900 mph.
2223 GMT (5:23 p.m. EST)
No problems have been reported during the entry.
2222 GMT (5:22 p.m. EST)
Less than 10 minutes from landing. Discovery is traveling at 4,400 mph, 25 miles in altitude.
2222 GMT (5:22 p.m. EST)
The TACAN navigation units aboard Discovery are now receiving data from beacons located at the landing site.
2221 GMT (5:21 p.m. EST)
Mission Control computes Discovery will land 1,500 feet down the runway at 205 knots. The vehicle remains on course and the MILA tracking station at the Cape has acquired Discovery's signal.
2220 GMT (5:20 p.m. EST)
Now 12 minutes from touchdown.
2218 GMT (5:18 p.m. EST)
Discovery's track is proceeding into southern Mississippi and Alabama now.
2217 GMT (5:17 p.m. EST)
The shuttle is 800 miles from the Cape, now crossing into Louisiana, as it flies eastward at 10,200 mph.
2216 GMT (5:16 p.m. EST)
Discovery now 195,000 feet over Houston, traveling at 11,200 mph.
2216 GMT (5:16 p.m. EST)
The powerful flood lights are illuminating Runway 15.
2215 GMT (5:15 p.m. EST)
The shuttle is crossing the Mexico-Texas border at an altitude 39 miles and speed of 12,600 mph.
2214 GMT (5:14 p.m. EST)
The ground track will take the shuttle about 30 miles north of Houston about two minutes from now.
2212 GMT (5:12 p.m. EST)
Discovery is making landfall over Mexico. The shuttle will continue across Texas, the Gulf Coast and then into Florida for landing at Kennedy Space Center.
2209 GMT (5:09 p.m. EST)
Discovery descending through an altitude of 45 miles, 2,400 miles from the landing site, at a speed of 15,700 mph.
2207 GMT (5:07 p.m. EST)
Time to touchdown now 25 minutes.
2206 GMT (5:06 p.m. EST)
Discovery is 3,100 miles from Kennedy Space Center, traveling at 16,500 mph.
2205 GMT (5:05 p.m. EST)
The Discovery's track is illustrated in this map. The shuttle will fly over Houston, the Gulf Coast and then into Florida.
A closer view of the course into Florida is here.
And the wide turn to Runway 15 can be seen in this illustration.
2204 GMT (5:04 p.m. EST)
Discovery is beginning the first of four banks to scrub off speed as it plunges into the atmosphere. These turns basically remove the energy Discovery built up during launch.
2203 GMT (5:03 p.m. EST)
The latest weather forecast calls for scattered clouds at 14,000 feet and overcast at 25,000 feet. Since landing will occur right at sunset, the xenon flood lights will be turned on to help illuminate the runway.
2201 GMT (5:01 p.m. EST)
All three Auxiliary Power Units are running now.
2200 GMT (5:00 p.m. EST)
ENTRY INTERFACE. Discovery's thermal protection system is feeling heat beginning to build as the orbiter enters the top fringes of the atmosphere -- a period known as entry interface.
The shuttle is flying at Mach 25 with its nose elevated 40 degrees, wings level, at an altitude of 400,000 feet over the southern Pacific Ocean.
Touchdown remains set for 5:32 p.m. EST in Florida.
2158 GMT (4:58 p.m. EST)
Discovery is 450,000 feet in altitude.
2152 GMT (4:52 p.m. EST)
Now 40 minutes to touchdown. Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility was built in 1975. The concrete strip is 300 feet wide and 15,000 feet long with 1,000-foot overruns at each end. The runway is located about three miles northwest of the 525-foot tall Vehicle Assembly Building.
Discovery is targeting Runway 15, which is the northwest to southeast approach. The shuttle will make a 330-degree overhead turn to align with the runway.
2147 GMT (4:47 p.m. EST)
Onboard guidance has maneuvered Discovery from its heads-down, tail-forward position needed for the deorbit burn to the reentry configuration of heads-up and nose-forward. The nose will be pitched upward 40 degrees. In this new position, the black tiles on the shuttle's belly and the reinforced carbon-carbon panels on the wing leading edges and nose cap will shield the spacecraft during the fiery plunge through the Earth's atmosphere with temperatures reaching well over 2,000 degrees F. Discovery will begin interacting with the upper fringes of the atmosphere above the South Pacific at 5:00 p.m. EST.
2142 GMT (4:42 p.m. EST)
Touchdown is 50 minutes away. This will be the 64th shuttle landing at Kennedy Space Center.
2138 GMT (4:38 p.m. EST)
The convoy of landing support vehicles is moving to runway staging point for receiving Discovery.
2135 GMT (4:35 p.m. EST)
Excess propellant reserves in the maneuvering thrusters on the shuttle's nose will be dumped overboard. The dump time will be 60 seconds.
2134 GMT (4:34 p.m. EST)
Discovery is now maneuvering to the orientation for entry.
2131 GMT (4:31 p.m. EST)
DEORBIT BURN COMPLETE. Discovery has successfully completed the deorbit burn for the trip back home. Landing is scheduled for 5:32 p.m. EST at the Cape following a long afternoon of watching the weather. Meteorologists finally determined conditions would be acceptable for a safe return of the shuttle just before sunset.
2127 GMT (4:27 p.m. EST)
DEORBIT BURN IGNITION. Flying upside down and backwards above the Indian Ocean, Discovery has begun the deorbit burn. The firing of the twin Orbital Maneuvering System engines on the tail of the shuttle will last three minutes and 46 seconds, slowing the craft by 262 mph to slip from orbit. The retro-burn will send Discovery to Kennedy Space Center in Florida for a touchdown at 5:32 p.m. EST.
2125 GMT (4:25 p.m. EST)
Discovery is in the proper orientation for the deorbit burn. And pilot Bill Oefelein has activated one of three Auxiliary Power Units in advance of the burn, now two minutes away. The other two APUs will be started later in the descent to provide pressure needed to power shuttle's hydraulic systems that move the wing flaps, rudder/speed brake, drop the landing gear and steer the nose wheel. NASA ensures that at least one APU is working before committing to the deorbit burn since the shuttle needs only a single unit to make a safe landing.
2121 GMT (4:21 p.m. EST)
GO FOR THE DEORBIT BURN! Weather is declared observed and forecast "go" at Kennedy Space Center. So entry flight director Norm Knight in Mission Control just gave the "go" for Discovery to perform the deorbit burn at 4:27 p.m. EST that will commit the shuttle for the trip back to Earth.
Touchdown in Florida is set for 5:32 p.m. EST.
2117 GMT (4:17 p.m. EST)
The weather outlook for KSC still shows some hope. Mission Control needs to get comfortable with the conditions, however.
2116 GMT (4:16 p.m. EST)
Final weather briefing is underway.
2112 GMT (4:12 p.m. EST)
The area of rain to the southwest of Kennedy Space Center seems to be dissipating as it nears the 30-mile zone around the runway.
2107 GMT (4:07 p.m. EST)
Now 20 minutes until the deorbit burn. Standing by for a "go" or "no go" call from Mission Control.
2058 GMT (3:58 p.m. EST)
So the first Edwards opportunity will be passed up today due to crosswinds.
The crew is now focusing on the next Kennedy Space Center landing option, which would be the final shot to make it to the Florida spaceport today. That would begin with a deorbit burn at 4:27 p.m. and landing on Runway 15 at 5:32 p.m., if weather is deemed acceptable there.
2056 GMT (3:56 p.m. EST)
Winds are picking up and becoming a bit more dynamic at Edwards Air Force Base. Mission Control is sending the shuttle targets for the Kennedy Space Center landing opportunity.
2050 GMT (3:50 p.m. EST)
Pilot Bill Oefelein is putting the Auxiliary Power Units cockpit switches in the ready-to-start configuration.
2048 GMT (3:48 p.m. EST)
The landing convoy at Edwards is rolling toward the staging point for Discovery's arrival. The astronauts are loading the Edwards landing information. But a final "go" to land in California has not yet been made. Flight controllers continue to discuss the possibility of rain showers around Kennedy Space Center and whether the forecast is good enough for a landing there.
2045 GMT (3:45 p.m. EST)
A steering check of the Discovery's twin orbital maneuvering system engines on the tail of the shuttle is being performed. The engines will perform the deorbit burn to slow the ship for entry into the atmosphere this afternooon.
2030 GMT (3:30 p.m. EST)
Entry flight director Norm Knight continues to watch the weather. The crew has been given the data for an Edwards landing opportunity, since it is the next one available. Crosswinds are currently within limits. However, there is still a glimmer of hope that weather will be acceptable at Kennedy Space Center. A final decision on which, if any, site to select for the upcoming orbit will be made within a half-hour or so.
2014 GMT (3:14 p.m. EST)
Winds at Edwards becoming more favorable, CAPCOM Ken Ham just told the crew. And somewhat surprisingly, the outlook at Kennedy Space Center has improved. The showers to the south have died out over the past hour. So with that, the astronauts were given the "go" to start their "fluid loading" procedures in which they drink large quantities of liquids to help in the readaptation to gravity.
1955 GMT (2:55 p.m. EST)
Back here at the Kennedy Space Center, astronaut Steve Lindsey has taken off to perform another set of weather runs around Central Florida aboard a Shuttle Training Aircraft.
1951 GMT (2:51 p.m. EST)
Astronaut Dom Gorie is now airborne at Edwards Air Force Base to evaluate the turbulence and crosswinds in a Shuttle Training Aircraft. The modified Gulfstream jet has flying characteristics to mimic the shuttle.
1904 GMT (2:04 p.m. EST)
DELAY. The first landing opportunity of the day has been scrubbed due to unstable weather approaching the Kennedy Space Center. So Discovery's mission will be extended an additional orbit. That orbit will present landing options at Edwards Air Force Base, White Sands and KSC between 5:27 and 5:32 p.m. EST, depending on the site. The weather forecast still looks pessimistic at KSC and Edwards has crosswind concerns, but White Sands looks acceptable.
The options available now:
There is another orbit after that, which has 7 p.m. EST landing opportunities for Edwards and White Sands.
- 4:19 p.m. deorbit burn for Edwards, landing at 5:27 p.m. EST
- 4:20 p.m. deorbit burn for White Sands, landing at 5:27 p.m. EST
- 4:26 p.m. deorbit burn for Kennedy, landing at 5:32 p.m. EST
1845 GMT (1:45 p.m. EST)
The forecast of high winds remains the concern at Edwards Air Force Base in California. But the White Sands landing site in New Mexico has a favorable weather outlook today. Only one shuttle mission has landed there -- Columbia on STS-3 in 1982.
1837 GMT (1:37 p.m. EST)
The weather situation in Florida has become "unstable," CAPCOM Ken Ham just told the crew. Some of the scattered rain showers moving northward are forecast to be within 30 miles of the Kennedy Space Center runway at landing time.
The astronauts were told to hold off on their "fluid loading" procedures in which they drink large quantities of liquids to help in the readaptation to gravity. However, an official scrub of the first landing opportunity has not yet been made.
1825 GMT (1:25 p.m. EST)
Entry flight director Norm Knight is getting a weather briefing for all three sites.
1820 GMT (1:20 p.m. EST)
If weather precludes an on-time 3:56 p.m. EST landing at the Kennedy Space Center, Discovery would remain in space for another 90-minute orbit. That following orbit features opportunities into all three landing sites, with touchdown times varying between 5:27 and 5:32 p.m. EST.
1814 GMT (1:14 p.m. EST)
Commander Mark Polansky reports he has donned his entry spacesuit and taken the flight deck's front-left seat.
1810 GMT (1:10 p.m. EST)
Multiple rain showers are developing to the south and moving northward into Central Florida, which does not bode well for Discovery's chances of being cleared to land at Kennedy Space Center this afternoon.
Chief astronaut Steve Lindsey is in the air examining the weather around the Cape. The weather reconnaissance pilots at the other landing sites are astronauts Dom Gorie at Edwards and Brent Jett at White Sands.
1801 GMT (1:01 p.m. EST)
The shuttle's main flight computers have completed the switch to the entry software package. And the star trackers have been stowed for entry. Meanwhile, chief astronaut Steve Lindsey is about to take off from Kennedy Space Center aboard the Shuttle Training Aircraft for weather reconnaissance flights around the area. Earlier this morning, he was flying in a T-38 jet to examine how the weather situation was developing.
1756 GMT (12:56 p.m. EST)
Now three hours from touchdown at the Kennedy Space Center. While the astronauts continue with their entry preparations, flight controllers in Houston are keeping a cautious eye on the weather in Florida. It seems like the exact location of showers at the decision time about 90 minutes from now will determine whether Discovery will be permitted to brake from orbit for the trip home.
1734 GMT (12:34 p.m. EST)
Mission Control has given the crew a "go" to transition the onboard computers from the OPS-2 software used during the shuttle's stay in space to OPS-3, which is the software package that governs entry and landing. And Discovery will soon maneuver to a new orientation in space to improve the communications link with NASA's orbiting data relay satellites.
1730 GMT (12:30 p.m. EST)
Discovery's 60-foot-long payload bay doors are now closed and locked in preparation for today's fiery descent into Earth's atmosphere and landing at Kennedy Space Center, weather permitting.
1729 GMT (12:29 p.m. EST)
The latch problem appears to be a simple microswitch indicator problem. The payload bay cameras show the hooks and latches are engaged properly.
1724 GMT (12:24 p.m. EST)
The crew didn't see the proper ready-to-latch indicator on an aft bulkhead lock when the starboard door was closing. Payload bay cameras are being reactivated to take a look.
1717 GMT (12:17 p.m. EST)
The port-side door is swinging shut.
1710 GMT (12:10 p.m. EST)
And now the "go" has been radioed to the crew for payload bay door closing.
1700 GMT (12:00 p.m. EST)
Mission Control has given the crew a "go" to configure the orbiter for closing the payload bay doors. Cooling is being switched from the radiators in the doors to the flash evaporator system that uses water stored on the shuttle to keep onboard systems from overheating.
Weather remains a concern for the first landing opportunity of the day at Kennedy Space Center, but NASA is pressing forward with preparations to preserve the chance of an on-time homecoming if the weather allows. That opportunity would begin with a deorbit burn at 2:49 p.m. and touchdown on Runway 15 at 3:56 p.m. EST.
1617 GMT (11:17 a.m. EST)
Entry CAPCOM Ken Ham just radioed commander Mark Polansky that the forecast remains pretty much unchanged from yesterday. The desired landing site at Kennedy Space Center has the chance of low cloud ceilings and rain showers. But meteorologists have not indicated the situation is hopeless.
"It still looks certainly possible today and we're going to continue to march toward that," Ham said.
Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert is experiencing windy conditions after the passage of a frontal system, with the forecast predicting crosswinds well out of limits.
"It is going to be a dynamic day for you guys," Polansky said.
"You guessed it," Ham replied.
Here are all the landing opportunities for today (in EST and mission duration):
02:49 PM...12...18...02...Orbit 203 deorbit burn (TIG) for KSC landing
03:56 PM...12...19...09...202 KSC landing
04:19 PM...12...19...32...203 Edwards Air Force Base TIG
05:27 PM...12...20...40...EAFB landing
04:20 PM...12...19...33...203 Northrup Strip TIG
05:27 PM...12...20...40...Northrup landing
04:26 PM...12...19...39...203 KSC TIG
05:32 PM...12...20...45...KSC landing
05:54 PM...12...21...07...204 EAFB TIG
07:00 PM...12...22...13...EAFB landing
05:57 PM...12...21...10...204 Northrup TIG
07:02 PM...12...22...15...Northrup landing
07:32 PM...12...22...45...205 EAFB TIG
08:36 PM...12...23...49...EAFB landing
1550 GMT (10:50 a.m. EST)
The astronauts have entered the deorbit prep checklist to ready the orbiter and themselves for today's entry and landing. Clouds and showers remain in the forecast for Kennedy Space Center, Florida, as well as stiff crosswinds at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The White Sands alternate site in New Mexico continues to have a favorable weather outlook for today.
1500 GMT (10:00 a.m. EST)
It is landing day for the crew of space shuttle Discovery. The astronauts were awakened at about 7:17 a.m. EST this morning. They will begin the deorbit preparation timeline at 10:49 a.m. in hopes of acceptable weather for a Kennedy Space Center landing at 3:56 p.m.
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 21, 2006
The Discovery astonauts tested the shuttle's re-entry systems today and packed up for a trip back to Earth Friday to close out a successful space station re-wiring mission. Results from a final heat shield inspection, carried out Wednesday, show Discovery's nose cap and wing leading edge panels are in good shape and the crew has official clearance to press ahead with re-entry. The only question is where the seven astronauts will land.
Read our full story.
1827 GMT (1:27 p.m. EST)
It appears only one microsatellite sphere released out of the canister halves. The astronauts were asked to zoom their cameras to get a better look.
1823 GMT (1:23 p.m. EST)
Microsatellites packaged inside a canister for the Atmospheric Neutral Density Experiment (ANDE) just launched from the Discovery's payload bay at an altitude of 215 miles above the Pacific Ocean.
Moments after release, the canister split in half for release of the two microsatellites.
One craft will serve as an active technology demonstration satellite and proof of concept for a spherical antenna system. The other is a passive satellite to be used as a calibration target for the Air Force Radar Fence.
The ANDE project aims to measure the density and composition of the low-Earth orbit atmosphere while satellites are tracked from the ground. The data would be used to better predict the movement of objects in orbit.
1715 GMT (12:15 p.m. EST)
The Discovery astonauts tested the shuttle's re-entry systems today and packed up for a trip back to Earth Friday to close out a successful space station re-wiring mission. The only question today is where the seven astronauts will land.
Read our full story.
1500 GMT (10:00 a.m. EST)
The astronauts are spending the final full day in space testing Discovery's flight control systems and thrusters, packing up equipment and readying for tomorrow's return to Earth. Also on tap today is deployment of the ANDE payload around 1:19 p.m. EST.
Weather continues to be a concern for the primary and backup landing sites, with the chance of low clouds and showers at Kennedy Space Center and strong winds at Edwards Air Force Base, respectively. But the secondary landing site of choice -- the White Sands facility in New Mexico -- is expected to have favorable weather.
The landing opportunities for Friday are:
02:53 PM...KSC deorbit burn
03:56 PM...KSC landing
04:23 PM...EAFB deorbit burn
05:26 PM...EAFB landing
04:25 PM...White Sands deorbit burn
05:27 PM...White Sands landing
04:30 PM...KSC deorbit burn
05:31 PM...KSC landing
05:59 PM...EAFB deorbit burn
07:00 PM...EAFB landing
06:01 PM...White Sands deorbit burn
07:02 PM...White Sands landing
07:35 PM...EAFB deorbit burn
08:36 PM...EAFB landing
0156 GMT (8:56 p.m. EST Wed.)
The Radar Fence Transponder (RAFT) payload has ejected from space shuttle Discovery.
This U.S. Naval Academy project gave aerospace students hands-on experience in satellite engineering. The two 5-inch cube satellites will test the military's space surveillance radar systems in Alabama, Arizona and Texas and serve as an experimental communications relay of GPS coordinates and messages from mobile units to the Internet.
0020 GMT (7:20 p.m. EST Wed.)
The tiny MEPSI payload was just launched from the payload bay of space shuttle Discovery, marking the first of three deployments planned over the next day.
Microelectromechanical System-Based (MEMS) PICOSAT Inspector consists of two miniature spacecraft the size of coffee cups that are tethered together. The mission will test the feasibility of low-power inspection satellites that could be used for observing larger spacecraft in distress to help ground controllers analyze problems. MEPSI will demonstrate small camera systems and gyroscopes.
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 20, 2006
2130 GMT (4:30 p.m. EST)
The so-called late inspection process to check Discovery for any damage sustained in space by micrometeoroids or debris impacts is now complete. The port wing survey has concluded and the crew is moving the Orbiter Boom Sensor System back to its stowage location on the right-hand sill of the payload bay.
Coming up later today will be two military satellite deployment events at 7:19 and 8:56 p.m. EST.
2000 GMT (3:00 p.m. EST)
Having finished the nose cap observations, the astronauts are swinging the inspection boom around to examine Discovery's port wing.
1850 GMT (1:50 p.m. EST)
The decision earlier this week to add a spacewalk to Discovery's mission and still preserve a final heat shield inspection today forced NASA managers to delay re-entry one day to Friday and in so doing, give up one of three end-of-mission landing opportunities. With only two available landing days - Friday and Saturday - NASA flight rules require a landing attempt Friday, even if that means diverting the shuttle to California or New Mexico. The latter option is a worst-case scenario that could expose the orbiter to sub-freezing weather for two days, possibly damaging thruster seals and water lines, and delay the ship's return to Florida by four to six weeks.
Read our full story.
1753 GMT (12:53 p.m. EST)
Inspections of the reinforced carbon-carbon leading edge panels on Discovery's starboard wing were just completed by the laser and camera package of the Orbiter Boom Sensor System. Next, the crew will use the 50-foot boom to examine the shuttle's nose cap. That will be followed by the port wing leading edge panel survey.
1248 GMT (7:48 a.m. EST)
Discovery's astronauts were just awakened to begin flight day 12, which will be devoted to final inspections of the craft's heatshield to check for any micrometeoroid or space debris impacts.
0012 GMT (7:12 p.m. EST Tues.)
The third of three separation engine burns was just completed. This one used the OMS engines for 11 seconds to lower Discovery's orbit by about 10 miles at apogee and one mile at perigee. The new orbit is 182 by 170 miles.
Read our earlier status center coverage.