Space shuttle glides into Florida

Discovery lands at Kennedy Space Center after delivering 17,000 pounds of supplies to the space station and waiting an extra day to touch down due to weather.

William Harwood
Bill Harwood has been covering the U.S. space program full-time since 1984, first as Cape Canaveral bureau chief for United Press International and now as a consultant for CBS News. He has covered more than 125 shuttle missions, every interplanetary flight since Voyager 2's flyby of Neptune, and scores of commercial and military launches. Based at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Harwood is a devoted amateur astronomer and co-author of "Comm Check: The Final Flight of Shuttle Columbia." You can follow his frequent status updates at the CBS News Space page.
William Harwood
2 min read

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla.--The shuttle Discovery, delayed a day by cloudy Florida weather, glided to a pinpoint landing here on Tuesday morning to close out an extended space station assembly mission.

"We're glad the International Space Station is stocked up again," Commander Alan Poindexter told mission control after the 9:08 a.m. EDT landing.

The 131st shuttle mission covered 238 complete orbits and 6.2 million miles since blastoff on April 5 for a mission duration of 15 days.

Space shuttle Discovery lands Tuesday morning at Kennedy Space Center. NASA TV

Already running a day late because of low clouds here Monday, the astronauts were aiming for a 7:34 a.m. landing in Florida, but nearby showers and concern about fog prompted the entry flight director to order a one-orbit wave-off.

Discovery plunged back into the discernible atmosphere at an altitude of about 76 miles above the central Pacific Ocean south of the Aleutian Islands, crossing the western Canadian coast near Vancouver at an altitude of about 40 miles. Discovery sailed high above Helena, Mont., just west of Casper, Wyo., and across the northeastern corner of Colorado before descending across Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas, passing north of Little Rock before continuing across Mississippi, Alabama Georgia, and Florida.

With Discovery back on the ground, engineers at the nearby Vehicle Assembly Building were prepping the shuttle Atlantis for an overnight trip to launch pad 39A for liftoff May 14 on another space station assembly mission. It will be the 32nd and final planned flight for Atlantis as NASA faces the shuttle program's last three flights.

The final missions are devoted to delivering as much in the way of spare parts and supplies as possible to the space station before the shuttle fleet is retired and the station becomes dependent on less capable Russian, European, and Japanese cargo craft.

Discovery's crew delivered more than 17,000 pounds of supplies, equipment, and science gear and staged three spacewalks to replace an ammonia coolant tank on the station's main power truss. The new tank was successfully installed, but flight controllers were unable to pressurize the coolant loop because of trouble with a valve in an associated nitrogen tank.

Mission managers briefly considered a fourth spacewalk to install a spare nitrogen tank. But engineers concluded the coolant loop could be safely operated for at least a month without pressurization. As it now stands, the station's crew likely will stage a spacewalk later this spring to install a replacement tank.