- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 28, 2009

CAPE CANAVERAL, FLA. (AP) - Space shuttle Discovery and its crew are back on Earth.

Discovery landed at its home port in Florida on Saturday afternoon, ending a 13-day mission that left the international space station with all its solar wings.

The space station can now produce enough electricity to support a larger crew and conduct more research.

The shuttle crew also helped fix a recycling machine at the space station that turns astronauts’ urine and sweat into drinking water.

Touchdown occurred a little later than planned. Cloudy and windy weather forced NASA to delay Discovery’s homecoming by about 90 minutes. But the wind shifted and the conditions improved enough so that the seven astronauts could make the second and final landing opportunity for the day.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) _ Shuttle Discovery and its crew of seven streaked toward Earth on Saturday to wrap up a construction mission that left the international space station with all its solar wings and extra electrical power.

Discovery was due to touch down in midafternoon, a little later than planned.

Earlier, Mission Control delayed Discovery’s homecoming because of windy, cloudy weather at NASA’s spaceport. The wind shifted, however, and conditions improved in time for the second and final landing opportunity of the day.

“That’s great news,” said commander Lee Archambault.

Archambault and his co-pilot fired their ship’s braking rockets and initiated the descent, just as a new Russian-launched crew was settling into the space station.

Discovery’s 13-day flight was highlighted by the successful installation and unfurling of the space station’s last pair of solar wings. The $300 million addition brought the orbiting outpost up to full power, a vital part of NASA’s plan to double the space station population and boost the amount of science work in a few months.

The mission spanned more than 5 million miles and 202 orbits.

NASA was conducting a heat shield test during Discovery’s re-entry, which had the shuttle crossing over Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and the Gulf of Mexico, and on into Florida.

A new type of tile with a slight bump was attached beneath Discovery’s left wing to disrupt the hypersonic air flow. Engineers wanted to measure the extra heat generated on downstream tiles; they insisted it would not be excessive and that the experiment was safe.

The space agency designed the new tile as a potential improvement for the shuttles _ a matter of keen interest ever since Columbia was destroyed during re-entry in 2003 _ and the new rocketships that will replace the shuttles.

Discovery is bringing back former space station resident Sandra Magnus. Saturday marked her 134th day in orbit; she flew up in mid-November. Her replacement, a Japanese astronaut, was launched aboard Discovery on March 15.

The shuttle also is ferrying five months’ worth of science samples from the space station, mostly blood, urine and saliva collected by its crew members. As many vials as possible were stuffed into the shuttle freezer, with the rest put in ice packs.

Also coming back for NASA scientists: four to five liters of recycled water that had been the astronauts’ own urine and sweat. The water was produced after Discovery delivered a new urine processor that fixed the recycling machine.

NASA hopes to have the water samples tested within a month. If the toxicology results are good, the three space station residents will be given the all-clear to start drinking the recycled water up there.

Discovery’s astronauts performed three spacewalks to hook up the solar wings and perform other chores. They were unable to deploy a pair of equipment storage platforms, after one of the shelves jammed.

NASA has until late this year to set up the shelves. That’s when the items that will be placed there _ crucial spare parts for the space station _ are launched.

The space station, meanwhile, got more guests Saturday with the arrival of a Russian Soyuz capsule, just three days after Discovery’s departure.

Two of the newcomers _ an American and a Russian _ will swap places with commander Mike Fincke and cosmonaut Yuri Lonchakov, who have been in orbit six months.

Billionaire space tourist Charles Simonyi, a former Microsoft executive, also flew up on the Soyuz for a 1 1/2-week visit.


On the Net:

NASA: https://spaceflight.nasa.gov

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