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Shuttle Crew Prepares For Return To Earth

The Discovery astronauts prepared for their return home Saturday, checking out the space shuttle's re-entry systems and packing for the glide back to Earth to close out a challenging space station assembly mission.

CBS News space analyst Bill Harwood reports that, with generally acceptable weather predicted by the Johnson Space Center's Spaceflight Meteorology Group, Discovery's is scheduled to fire its deorbit ignition at 12:33 p.m. Saturday, with landing at the Kennedy Space Center expected around 1:39 p.m.

The weather forecast is for scattered clouds at 5,000 and 20,000 feet, with winds out of 170 degrees at 13 knots with gusts to 21. That works out to a crosswind of just 5 knots or so but a headwind/tailwind up to 20 knots.

Forecasters also are predicting a slight chance for a broken deck of clouds at 5,000 feet that could cause problems.

A second Florida landing opportunity is available one orbit later, at 3:13:59 p.m.

Meanwhile, a Soyuz spacecraft TMA-13 carrying Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, NASA astronaut Michael Barratt and spaceflight participant Charles Simonyi is closing in on the International Space Station, after blasting off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Thursday.

Docking is scheduled for Saturday morning.

After being awakened this morning (to the tune of Van Morrison's "Bright Side of the Road"), Discovery's Commander Lee Archambault, pilot Dominic "Tony" Antonelli and flight engineer Steven Swanson began powering up and testing Discovery's flight control systems early this morning.

Their crewmates - John Phillips, Richard Arnold, Joseph Acaba and returning space station flight engineer Sandra Magnus - are busy packing.

A final public affairs event is scheduled for 1:03 p.m. when the astronauts will field questions from school kids at Punahou School in Honolulu, Hawaii.

(NASA)
Returning to Earth after four months in space, Magnus (left) will make the trip home resting on her back to ease her return to the unfamiliar tug of gravity. The crew is setting up a reclining seat on Discovery's lower deck for her.

Later this afternoon, the astronauts will check out their pressure suits.

For more info:

  • Discovery Mission (NASA)
  • Discovery STS-119 Status Report by Bill Harwood
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