Mon, Aug 08, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Shuttle ready to go home

RE-ENTRY Serious risks remain in getting the craft home, but the pilot said he had no concerns about landing, despite likening it to riding a runaway train


Astronauts completed flight control checks aboard space shuttle Discovery and practiced landing on a computer simulator as they made final preparations to return to Earth.

"It's time to come home and keep working on getting the shuttle better and ready to fly in the future again," Commander Eileen Collins said during a series of interviews yesterday.

As the crew prepared for the return trip and arrival today, the seven astronauts got good news: For the first time in three years, all four gyroscopes that control the orientation of the international space station were working.

Discovery's astronauts spent nine days of their 13-day mission resupplying the orbiting lab and two spacewalking astronauts replaced a gyroscope, which stopped working in 2002. They also restored power to another gyroscope, which stopped spinning in March.

The station's crew waited until Discovery undocked to start up all four gyroscopes at once.

"There's lots of cheering on board Discovery right now," Collins radioed back to the ground.

"It's been an outstandingly successful mission," deputy shuttle program manager Wayne Hale said of Discovery.

However, the daunting, suspenseful and dangerous task of getting Discovery home remained.

Discovery's pilot Jim Kelly said he has no concerns about landing and likened a shuttle during descent to a runaway freight train.

"That's a little bit what it feels like -- a very exciting, exhilarating process that ends with being at home," he said.

Hale added: "Flying a re-entry from 17,500 miles per hour [28,000kph] to stop in this 100 ton [90 tonne] glider that has got one shot at a runway is not what normal, sane people would normally call safe."

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