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Back From Space – NASA Shuttle Discovery Lands Safely In California

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At 8:12 this morning, the Shuttle Discovery touched down on the alternate landing site in California, ending one of the most publicly followed space missions since the historic Apollo 13 mission to the moon.

All around the world, countries that financially back the International Space Station breathed a sigh of relief as Shuttle Discovery landed at Edwards Air Force Base after a 14 day mission. Yesterday’s scheduled landing at KSC/Florida, and again at KSC in today’s pre-dawn hours, were cancelled due to weather related concerns.

The NASA Return To Fight mission that started with a perfect launch, but then went through several days of high tension scrutiny as NASA and the shuttle crew assessed and repaired minor damage to the spacecraft, has returned safely to Earth with a picture perfect landing.

Despite speculation that NASA‘s shuttle fleet would experience “grounding” due to continuing problems with foam breaking off the shuttle’s fuel tank, it seems unlikely that this will delay the second test flight of the re-designed shuttle, once scheduled for September 22-26, but possibly pushed back to November due to the time it will take to return Discovery (now designated the back-up/rescue shuttle) to Kennedy Space Center for processing.

The incidents of “foam shedding” from the shuttle fuel tank was reduced from over 110 per launch (average), to under 25 for this latest launch. The reduction was described by NASA Officials as “a significant improvement”. The single most dangerous incident, the PAL ramp foam, was found to have been damaged and then repaired weeks before launch, leaving it potentially weaker than a non-damaged foam application. This chunk of foam did not impact the shuttle, but an impact could have caused significant damage requiring in-orbit repairs.

This “damage and repair” policy regarding fuel tank foam (in areas that could impact the shuttle) is something that NASA may flag as unacceptable for future launches. Even so, the PAL ramp foam may undergo modification before the September launch.

Far from being discouraged by the problems encountered on the mission, most employees at NASA are expressing great satisfaction and encouragement by the overall success of this mission.

Keith Cowing, a former Nasa scientist who now runs the NasaWatch.com website, said officials were confident and that “Nasa hopes to use the boost of a safely completed mission to announce it had solved the problem of falling debris from the external tanks, and that the next shuttle flight – scheduled for September – could go ahead.”

All things considered, this was a highly successful Return To Flight. With an expanded knowledge of how the safety modifications performed in actual launch conditions, a greater focus on launch damage identification prior to reentry , and the tools and experience to repair the shuttle while in orbit, NASA is ready to make the September launch of Shuttle Atlantis (STS-121) the safest mission yet.

With less than 20 flights remaining for the shuttle fleet before being replaced by a new generation of cargo lift and crew transfer orbiters, NASA needs to utilize its fleet for the very important job of completing as much of the International Space Station as possible.

There will always be risks in space flight, but America needs to understand that the benefits from accepting risks and pushing ahead despite them, far outweighs the tragedy of becoming so afraid of risk (and of public opinion in the event of the loss of another shuttle crew) that we abandon the achievements paid for by all of us, and by the men and women who willingly sacrificed their lives for the shared dream of human space flight.

This is your very own International Space Station.

We, the world, have a Permanent Space Station orbiting our planet. No minor accomplishment for a people that harnessed electricity just a little over one hundred years ago. I realize this is only the first small step away from our cradle, our home planet, but to have culturally diverse nations cooperate in the construction of a human habitat in orbit – is a wondrous, unprecedented achievement.

The ISS is an accomplishment that should make YOU feel proud.

We are entering a golden era of exploration. We are witnessing a time when humanity finally reaches out to the planets that share our solar system and discovers the unimaginable. Take time to look at the pictures sent back by our spacecraft from Mars and Saturn, explain to your children that we are seeing things that no humans have ever seen before, and that we are solving some of the mysteries that mankind has pondered and debated for thousands of years.

Be inspired by this, for it is humanity’s ultimate dream come true. The dream that drives a species to expand its horizons out and away from its home planet. The defining event when a intelligent species stands together and cries out “The sky is no longer the limit.”

Also posted at VERMONT SPACE

Note:Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter launches Wednesday, August 10th

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About Bennett Dawson

  • Starexplorer

    Absolutely – great stuff here. I actually like to reference the Space.com Space Shuttle information page because it does a good job of providing some historical information and a portal back in time to the day-of happenings of the Shuttles, esp. Columbia.

  • andatude

    o yeah!. It’s coming, coming and it’s here!!!!!!!!

  • Bennett

    Surya Kanti Bhattacharya – I am not in the habit of sending pictures of the space programs out to individual readers, but there is quite a lot to see and read if you visit the NASA website.

    Have fun!

  • Surya Kanti Bhattacharya

    I want to know about space and in its working . Please send pictures on my e-mail. Please Sir,Please

  • Well, I’m not very happy with all the moon plans, for reasons I’ve stated before. Still, even though I think the moon is a waste of our time, it’s better to develop the technology we need to mess around on the moon than doing nothing at all to expand the human presence in space.

  • Bennett

    Victor – Agreed. NASA took so many wrong turns in an effort to stay alive during the budget cut era of William Proxmire that it’s amazing that NASA still exists.

    However, we have what we have, and thanks to China starting to awaken, the House and Senate are finally getting behind serious plans, plans that I know you DO get excited about.

    Me too.

    Aaman – Shockwaves, turbulence, hell just the shear at 5000 mph is something to contend with. We’ll see what the engineers have learned when the next generation of craft is rolled out for its first launch.

  • Glad Discovery and crew are safely home. The shuttle and the International Space Station do not cause me much excitement these days, especially when I think about where the space program could have been by now, but I certainly wish them all the best in everything they do.

    Unfortunately I highly doubt we will have humans exploring other solar systems within the next hundred years. I’d be happy just to see thriving human settlements elsewhere in our own solar system by then.

    That’s the sort of thing we could have already been doing by now, if we had spent our time and money building more robust space hardware based on successful programs like Apollo, Skylab, Soyuz and Salyut.

  • I heard that the impact may have been due to the shockwave on lift-off and initial thrust, which complicates missions somewhat – there’s not much one can do to reduce those shockwaves

  • Thumbs up. A big relief.

  • Bennett

    Nice of NASA to schedule the landing at a more reasonable hour. Was up at five, then quickly back to snooze mode when I heard that Discovery was waved off from the KSC landing.

    It’s good to have Eileen and Co. back on terra firma. Now let’s move on to the next launch.

    Thanks Victor, Gonzo and EO for the kind words.

  • Eric Olsen

    That’s a relief. Great job in presenting this entire drama, Bennett, and super pics too – thanks!

  • gonzo marx


    w00t…home safe..!!!

    thanx for the info Bennett, nice pics too

    did i mention the very sweet book linkage…



  • As a STAR TREK nut as a kid, I am completely drawn to anything we actually accomplish in space. It always feels like we are taking baby steps when I think of the concepts of “warp drive” and “starships.”

    Of course, the ISS is an accomplishment, a necessary one on the road to someday shooting our way to the outer edges of the galaxy.

    We won’t be here to see it, but who knows where we will be in 100 years? Landing humans on the first planet outside our solar system no doubt.

    Great piece!