Wednesday, March 9, 2011

STS133 Readies for Landing Today

Photo of Discovery from ISS. Last trip home.

With a successful mission behind them, the crew of STS133 prepares the orbiter Discovery for its landing today. They have taken the last inspection pictures of the re-entry tiles to verify all is well, and engineers have given them the all-clear. Eventually the pilot will close the cargo bay doors, which help to radiate heat into space. The commander will fire the orbiter's OMS engines, and begin braking the shuttle's tremendous speed. As the speed decreases, gravity begins to take over from velocity and the shuttle's altitude will lessen. Eventually the shuttle will encounter the atmosphere, and the air's mass will cause enough friction on the shuttle's underwing surface to heat up the tiles to about 1,500 degrees centigrade. Ouch. Do not touch. Actually the tiles cool more quickly than you think, so that soon after touchdown you could actually touch them safely.

Here's your wake-up call...

NASA performed another first early this morning. Usually, as the astronauts wake up from the night shift slumber, Mission Control plays a recorded musical piece selected either by astronauts or in this case, by the public. Today was the first time a Live Performance was used to greet the sleepy astronauts. The group Big Head Todd and the Monsters gladly arrived in the wee hours of the morning and prepared to give their first performance for outer space. Good job, guys, very cool!

Landing deorbit will begin at 8:52 am Mountain time and touchdown is scheduled for 9:57.

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