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An Extra Day in Space
By Ezra Billinkoff

Using a foot restraint on the International Space Station's robotic arm, astronaut Steve Robinson participates in the mission's third spacewalk.
Using a foot restraint on the International Space Station's robotic arm, astronaut Steve Robinson participates in the mission's third spacewalk.
(Photo: NASA)
Monday, August 8—They were packed and ready to head home. The space shuttle Discovery crew was supposed to land early Monday morning at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Because of thick clouds there, mission officials have decided to delay Discovery's return until Tuesday morning, leaving the crew to orbit Earth for an extra day.

Discovery has enough supplies and fuel to remain in orbit until Wednesday, if necessary. The crew has no work left to do, so they will spend most of their extra time just relaxing and enjoying the excellent view of Earth.

The decision to put off Discovery's return is just one more sign of officials playing it safe with the launch, mission, and now landing of the space shuttle. Many of these new safety measures are in response to the explosion of the space shuttle Columbia on February 1, 2003, as it re-entered Earth's atmosphere.

"We are going to officially wave you off for 24 hours," said Ken Ham, astronaut and mission communicator, to Discovery's mission commander, Eileen Collins. "We regret not getting you guys home today, but we feel pretty confident about tomorrow."

"Well, you guys made the right decision and we're with you," Collins responded.

No More Work to Be Done

Discovery had a very busy mission in space, compared to past missions. The space shuttle docked with the International Space Station for nine days, delivering badly needed supplies and repairing damaged parts.

The Discovery crew spent a lot of time testing new repair techniques on their own shuttle, conducting three different spacewalks (where astronauts exit the space shuttle to do work outside). On the third spacewalk, astronaut Steve Robinson went underneath the shuttle to remove material sticking out from between the spacecraft's protective tiles.

There were concerns in the last remaining days of Discovery's mission that a torn heat blanket—another shield against overheating in the space shuttle-may pose a problem to crewmembers. NASA officials and technicians worked on ways that the crew could fix the problem, but later decided it was not a risk.

With no repairs left to make and no spacewalks scheduled, the astronauts are just waiting patiently to return home. Once the Discovery crew received word that their landing was delayed, commander Eileen Collins said, "We're going to enjoy another day in orbit and we'll see you on Earth tomorrow."

Discovery will have four different chances to land on Tuesday morning: two of them in Cape Canaveral and two of them at Edwards Air Force Base in California.