Sunday, November 30, 2008

435p 11/30 Update: Endeavour lands in California

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CBS NEWS STS-126 STATUS REPORT: 89
Posted: 04:35 PM, 11/30/08

By William Harwood
CBS News Space Analyst

Changes and additions:

   SR-87 (11/30/08): Shuttle crew cleared for California landing
   SR-88 (11/30/08): Shuttle braking rockets fired
   SR-89 (11/30/08): Endeavour glides to smooth California touchdown

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04:35 PM, 11/30/08, Update: Endeavour glides to smooth California touchdown

The space shuttle Endeavour dropped out of a cloudless blue sky and settled to a tire-smoking touchdown on runway 4L at California's Edwards Air Force Base to wrap up a marathon space station assembly and maintenance mission.

With commander Christopher Ferguson and pilot Eric Boe at the controls, the black-and-white spaceplane touched down at 4:25:06 p.m. after an hour-long descent from orbit.

Barreling down the runway at more than 200 mph, Boe released a braking parachute, Ferguson dropped the hose gear to the runway and Endeavour rolled to a stop on the runway centerline a few moments later.

"Wheels stopped, Houston" Ferguson radioed.

"Copy, wheels stopped, Endeavour," replied Alan Poindexter from the Johnson Space Center. "Welcome back. It was a great way to finish a fantastic flight, Fergie."

"And we're happy to be here in California."

The shuttle pilots used temporary runway 4 because the 15,000-foot-long, 300-foot-wide runway normally used for shuttle landings was not available due to recent maintenance.  While the temporary runway is 3,000 feet shorter and 100 feet narrower than the normally used landing strip, Ferguson had no problems.

"We have about 800 feet of it left, so we didn't quite use it all," Ferguson joked.

Aboard the international space station, Expedition 18 commander Michael Fincke, flight engineer Yury Lonchakov and Sandra Magnus watched the landing on television beamed up from Houston. Fincke praised the shuttle skipper for "a picture-perfect landing."

"I'd like to extend congratulatons to the crew of Endeavour and to the entire team that made that incredible home makeover mission possible," he said. "Wow, what a great crew and what a great team we have. We're really proud of everyone."

Mission duration was 15 days 20 hours 29 minutes and 37 seconds, covering some 6.6 million miles through 250 complete orbits since blastoff Nov. 14 from the Kennedy Space Center.

Ferguson, Boe, Donald Pettit, Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper, Stephen Bowen, Robert "Shane" Kimbrough and returning space station flight engineer Gregory Chamitoff were expected to leave the orbiter within an hour or so of landing. All seven were scheduled to fly back to Houston on Monday.

Chamitoff was launched to the space station May 31, joining the Expedition 17 crew and later, Expedition 18 commander Michael Fincke and flight engineer Yury Lonchakov. He was replaced by Magnus, who took off with Endeavour's crew and remained behind aboard the station when the shuttle undocked Friday.

To ease his re-adaptation to gravity after six months in space, Chamitoff made the trip home resting on his back in a recumbent seat set up on the shuttle's lower deck. Flight surgeons were standing by to assist as needed. Asked what he was looking forward to after seeing his family again, he said "Diet Coke, pizza and Rocky Road ice cream."

"I just cannot believe six months have gone by," Chamitoff said last week. "I regret having to leave and not see the end of Expedition 18. ... And of course, I'm really happy because I'm really looking forward to seeing my family. ... All my thoughts are there now."

Thanks to a cold front in Florida where friends and family were awaiting his return, he will have to wait a little longer.

NASA managers had hoped to bring Endeavour down at the Kennedy Space Center, but high crosswinds and low clouds forced entry Flight Director Bryan Lunney to wave off two back-to-back landing opportunities. He briefly held open the option of keeping the crew in space for another Florida landing try Monday. But when forecasters concluded there was little chance for any major improvement, Lunney cleared the crew to head for California instead.

LeRoy Cain, chairman of NASA's Mission Management Team, said a diversion to California would have no major impact on NASA's processing schedule and manifest. But it will take a week or more to get the shuttle back to Florida.

Despite the unplanned diversion to Edwards, NASA managers said the flight was a near-total success, setting the stage for the agency to boost the station's crew size from three to six next May as planned.

Over the course of a marathon mission, the astronauts delivered more than 16,000 pounds of equipment and supplies, including two 1,700-pound water reprocessing racks, a new toilet, a new galley, a refrigerator, a combustion experiment rack and two sleep stations to give future astronauts a bit of privacy.

The water recycling equipment is critical to NASA's long-range plans, capable of converting condensate and urine to ultra-pure water for drinking, meal preparation, personal hygiene and oxygen generation. Vibration problems with a centrifuge in the urine processor's distillation assembly caused initial start-up problems, but the astronauts were able to resolve the issue by removing rubber vibration dampers.

Nearly two gallons of processed urine and condensate were sent home aboard Endeavour. The samples will be flown back to the Johnson Space Center in Houston as soon as possible for detailed chemical analysis to determine water purity and, in the process, collect the data necessary to help the station crew calibrate an on-board analyzer.

The station fliers plan to hook up the new toilet within the next two weeks. Water samples will be collected over the next three months to assess the system's performance and the crew of the next shuttle assembly mission, scheduled for launch Feb. 12, will use the new potty to simulate the activity of a six-member station crew. No one will actually sample any reprocessed water until testing is complete.

Along with installing the new water recycling gear, Stefanyshyn-Piper, Bowen and Kimbrough, working in two-person teams, staged four spacewalks to clean and lubricate the station's damaged right-side solar array rotary joint and to lubricate its left-side counterpart. They also removed a spent nitrogen tank, attached a spare coolant system component and readied the Japanese Kibo lab module for attachment of an external experiment platform next year.

Successfully servicing the starboard solar alpha rotary joint, or SARJ, was crucial for NASA's long range plans. The joints are used to keep outboard solar arrays face-on to the sun as the lab orbits the Earth. But the 10-foot-wide drive gear at the heart of the starboard SARJ suffered extensive damage because of a lubrication breakdown that left one of three bearing surfaces cracked and eroded.

The Endeavour spacewalkers removed 11 of 12 trundle bearing assemblies, cleaned and lubricated the bearing races and re-installed the TBAs. A post-servicing test showed the joint rotated almost as smoothly as it did when it was first installed. Additional tests and analyses are planned, but engineers are hopeful the joint can resume normal, or near-normal, operations.

With Endeavour safely back on the ground, NASA will set its sights on launching the shuttle Discovery Feb. 12 on a mission to install a final set of solar arrays on the right side of the lab's power truss.

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Quick-Launch Web Links:

CBS News STS-126 Status Reports:
http://www.cbsnews.com/network/news/space/current.html

CBS News STS-126 Quick-Look Page:
http://www.cbsnews.com/network/news/space/currentglance.html

NASA ISS Expeditions Page:
http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/expeditions/index.html

NASA Shuttle Web: http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/shuttle/index.html
NASA Station Web: http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/station/index.html
Spaceflight Now: http://spaceflightnow.com/index.html
GoogleSatTrack: http://www.lizard-tail.com/isana/tracking/

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