With most of its major tasks complete, including an investigation of the protective foam shield, the crew on board Discovery is cleared to return to Earth Monday. Yet, there's still plenty to do.
Mission managers have declared Discovery's heat shield safe for re-entry. Discovery's crew was awakened Monday with, ”Good morning Discovery.” Mission Specialist Pier Sellers replied, "Good morning Houston, just got to the mic [microphone] in time. Thanks very much, that was beautiful."
The crew also heard these words from NASA mission control: “We deem the T.P.S. as 100 percent clear for entry.” Sellers then responded, “That is great news. That is fantastic.”
After extensive examination, NASA managers say a piece of fabric protruding from between two of the shuttle's thermal tiles does not pose a threat to a safe landing. Those tiles shield the shuttle from the high temperatures reached during reentry.
During the past several days, the Discovery crew delivered equipment and supplies to the International Space Station, while mission specialists outside the docked craft secured a device that could accidentally cut power and video signals to the station. Then they tested an attachment to the shuttle’s robotics arm -- extending its reach to 30 meters -- that will be used for inspecting and possibly repairing hard to reach places on the shuttle's underside.
On Monday, mission specialists Mike Fossum and Piers Sellers replaced a loose cord and a pump on the space station, and moved a spare piece of equipment into stowage, while engineers on board continued unloading and packing more than two tons of trash and equipment from the station into Discovery.
On their third space walk Wednesday, Sellers and Fossum will conduct a final inspection of the Shuttle prior to its return to Earth Monday.