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US Shuttle Crew Prepares for Landing


Officials at the U.S. space agency NASA have given the shuttle Discovery the go-ahead for re-entry after inspecting the ship's exterior. The shuttle is returning from a successful mission to rewire the international space station. VOA's Sean Maroney reports from Washington.

The crew of the U.S. space shuttle Discovery conducted Wednesday a final inspection of the ship's heat shield. The crew used cameras attached to the shuttle's robotic arm in order to capture images of the nose cap and wings.

Mission Control in Houston, Texas, gave the final go ahead after examining the images for any damage resulting from tiny meteorites.

"We'll ask your opinion of our picture...We're looking it over, Mark. Okay, we like that view. Cleared to proceed," Mission Control said.

The inspection of the ship's hull is part of NASA's new safety procedures instituted after the 2003 Columbia tragedy. Shuttle wing damage allowed searing hot gases to penetrate the shuttle on re-entry, causing it to disintegrate and killing all seven astronauts onboard.

Discovery's landing is scheduled for Friday at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. However, bad weather may force a delay in the landing or move it to a back-up site.

Mission Official Phil Engelhoff told reporters the crew has enough supplies only for a one-day delay. In a worst case scenario, he said, the shuttle would have to go back to the International Space Station never to return to Earth. "As far as going back to the space station, that would be a one-way trip. If we were to do that, we would use the shuttle's deorbit gas to go back to the station. We don't see ourselves in a posture to do that," he said.

Discovery undocked from the space station earlier this week after an eight-day stay to rewire the station's power system.

U.S. Astronaut Sunita Williams has replaced German Astronaut Thomas Reiter on the station's three-person crew.