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Shuttle lands in Florida after delivery of solar panels

CAPE CANAVERAL — The shuttle Discovery glided to a hazy Florida landing on Saturday, leaving the International Space Station behind in orbit with a complete set of solar arrays and a repaired water recycling system.

Running one orbit late because of high winds and low clouds, the shuttle commander, Air Force Col. Lee Archambault, and the pilot, Navy Cmdr. Dominic Antonelli, guided Discovery to a smooth touchdown at 3:13 p.m., ending a 13-day mission with three space walks.

"Welcome home, Discovery, after a great mission to bring the International Space Station to full power," astronaut George Zamka radioed from mission control in Houston.

Sandra Magnus, the space station flight engineer, returned to Earth on Discovery, riding on her back in a recumbent seat on the shuttle's lower deck to ease her transition to gravity after four months in space.

Magnus was replaced by Koichi Wakata, a Japanese astronaut who rode to the lab complex aboard Discovery.

And the number of people aboard the space station grew on Saturday as two other new crew members and a wealthy space tourist arrived. The three — the Expedition 19 commander, Col. Gennady Padalka of the Russian air force; a NASA flight engineer, Dr. Michael Barratt; and a software developer, Charles Simonyi — were on a Russian Soyuz rocket that docked at the space station at 9:05 a.m.

Discovery's seven-member crew cleared the way for the station's expansion by installing a fourth and final set of solar arrays that doubled the power available for scientific research. NASA is moving ahead with plans to launch the shuttle Atlantis to service the Hubble Space Telescope on May 12.

Shuttle lands in Florida after delivery of solar panels 03/28/09 [Last modified: Saturday, March 28, 2009 8:58pm]
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