June 14, 2008 in Nation/World

Space shuttle cleared to return to Earth today

Robert Block Orlando Sentinel
Associated Press photo

Discovery crew wave at the end of a news conference on the shuttle flight deck Friday. Front row from left, Mike Fossum, Mark Kelly and Garrett Reisman. Back row from left, Ken Ham, Akihiko Hoshide, Karen Nyberg and Ron Garan. Associated Press
(Full-size photo)

Phew! For a few tense hours Friday it looked to Houston as if shuttle Discovery might have a problem.

During routine pre-landing checks, crew members saw something fly off the shuttle and into space. Then they noticed what looked like a bump in the ship’s tail rudder. Luckily, they took some great photos and video, which allowed engineers to figure out that there was no bump on the rudder, and the floating object was a piece of insulation needed only for takeoff.

With the mysteries solved, Discovery was cleared to come home. The shuttle is scheduled to land at Kennedy Space Center at 11:15 a.m. EDT today, ending a 14-day mission. The shuttle’s approach will take it on a northeast track across the South Pacific, over the Yucatan Peninsula and entering Florida near Sanibel Island. Discovery will veer east slightly near Kissimmee, Fla., as it heads toward touchdown in time for the four astronaut dads aboard to celebrate Father’s Day on Sunday.

The forecast looks good. But if weather does become an issue, astronauts have a second opportunity to land at the space center at 12:50 p.m., taking a more northerly approach toward the space center over Orlando, Fla. If that’s not possible, they can try again Sunday and Monday.

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