By Liz White, UT staff
Washington, DC-Space Shuttle Discovery and its crew came back to earth safely on 17 July after a 13-day, five million-mile mission.
Despite much media criticism prior to the launch around the potential for polyurethane foam debris from the external fuel tank to damage the Shuttle, NASA (the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration) went ahead with the mission on 4 July. During launch some small pieces of this insulation foam did detach from the tank, but at a point far enough away from the earth to be harmless, the Space Shuttle Program managers said.
The programme managers were pleased with Discovery's performance. "The flight verified the safety of the biggest aerodynamic change to the external fuel tank in shuttle history. The protuberance air load ramps were removed after a piece of foam came off this area during Discovery's flight last year," a NASA statement said.
This latest mission, called STS-121, tested shuttle safety improvements, repaired a rail car on the International Space Station and produced high-resolution images of the shuttle during and after its 4 July launch.
Discovery's commander Steve Lindsey, pilot Mark Kelly and mission specialists Mike Fossum, Piers Sellers, Lisa Nowak and Stephanie Wilson landed Monday 17 July at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Florida.
After the crew's traditional post-landing walk round of the shuttle. Lindsey said, "I have been on four flights, and this is the cleanest vehicle I've ever seen."
During launch more than 100 high definition, digital, video and film cameras documented progress. These images helped assess whether the orbiter had sustained any damage, said NASA, and what implications that damage had for Discovery's return.