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Discovery Prepares to Touch Down in Florida

July 17, 2006|Michael Cabbage | Orlando Sentinel

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — The space shuttle Discovery is scheduled to end its 13 days in orbit this morning with the first shuttle landing at the Kennedy Space Center since 2002.

Discovery's six astronauts are to touch down at 6:14 a.m. PDT to complete a supply flight to the International Space Station that included a critical repair to the outpost and delivery of a new crew member.

The biggest weather concern was a chance of showers near Cape Canaveral. "I think we have a pretty good shot," said Steve Stich, the flight director who will oversee Discovery's return.

The crew prepared for landing Sunday after checking out the shuttle's flight control systems, including an auxiliary power unit leaking either flammable hydrazine fuel or harmless nitrogen gas. Engineers suspect the leak is nitrogen.

The unit is one of three that powers the orbiter's hydraulics system and operates the body flaps, steering and brakes during landing.

"We don't expect any problems for landing," Discovery pilot Mark Kelly said.

The shuttle has another Florida landing opportunity one orbit later, at 7:50 a.m. PDT. It will stay in space for an additional day if weather thwarts both landings. Backup runways at Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert and White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico would be activated Tuesday.

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