The space shuttle Discovery landed safely in Florda at 9:08 a.m. Tuesday, after cloudy weather forced it to spend an extra day in orbit. The shuttle and its crew returned from a 15-day mission dropping off over 17,000 pounds of supplies and equipment at the International Space Station.
On its way to Kennedy Space Center, the shuttle flew over much of North America — the first time a space shuttle had done that since 2007. From the AP report:
Crossing the Canadian coast high above Vancouver, Discovery plunged across the American northwest as it endured temperatures of up to 3,000 degrees flying above Helena, Mont., Casper, Wyo., and northeast Colorado as it descended toward Florida.
The shuttle’s on-board computers guided the ship across central Kansas, Tulsa, Okla., just north of Little Rock, Ark., across central Mississippi and Montgomery, Ala., before crossing into Florida on a southeasterly trajectory to the Kennedy Space Center.
Normally shuttles return on a southwest-to-northeast trajectory over the south Pacific Ocean, Central America and the Caribbean. For viewers in North America, this was likely a final chance to witness the fiery streak of a shuttle re-entry because the current fleet of space shuttles will be retired later this year. Only three more voyages are planned — the final mission of Atlantis is scheduled to launch on May 14, then Endeavor on July 29, and finally Discover one more time on September 16.
Monday’s scheduled landing was delayed because of rain and clouds that were too low and too thick. The shuttle’s reentry path didn’t go over Europe, so the volcanic ash from Iceland was never a concern. Discovery and its seven astronauts could have stayed in orbit until Wednesday, but would have tried for a backup landing spot in Southern California if weather again had again prevented a Florida landing.
Up next for Discovery’s crew — Captain Poindexter, Colonel Dutton, flight engineer Dorothy M. Metcalf-Lindenburger, Japanese astronaut Naoko Yamazaki, robot arm operator Stephanie D. Wilson and spacewalkers Richard A. Mastracchio and Clayton C. Anderson — a flight to Houston early Wednesday after reunions with friends and family members.
[Image: Pool photograph by Pierre DuCharme via NY Times]