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Discovery Prepares for Return to Earth

The U.S. space shuttle Discovery disengaged from the international space station Saturday in preparation for it's return to Earth. The landing will mark the end of a difficult mission. Discovery has one more challenge ahead before the mission is over.

Discovery undocked from the orbiting scientific outpost after re-stocking the space station, repairing its equipment and haul away trash.

Mission controllers say all systems are go for Discovery's scheduled return to Earth early Monday at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

As it touches down, the shuttle will glide over heavily populated areas in Central America and points north.

Deputy space shuttle director Wayne Hale says NASA is aware of the issue.

"We did have a discussion of the mission management team today of public overflight. That was a new topic I guess you'd have to say since the accident. This vehicle is in extremely clean shape," he explained.

Discovery marked the resumption of the space shuttle program after it was grounded following the Columbia disaster two-and-half years ago.

NASA has two alternate landing sites, but Mr. Hale says the space agency prefers the Kennedy Space Center.

If the weather is bad, he says the return could be postponed by one day unless there is a reason to make an emergency landing, in which case Discovery could touch down either at either Edwards Air Force Base in California or White Sands in New Mexico.