Lead Flight Director John Shannon said shuttle and station managers decided to extend the mission to allow ground controllers more time to analyze the placement and weight distribution of items the crew is sending home aboard the Leonardo Module. He said the decision also reflects added flexibility in station-era timelines, and the availability of sufficient stores of fuel and life-supporting consumables on board. Shannon said the crews, which had been working hard to complete the cargo transfers according to the original schedule, appeared more relaxed after receiving the news about the extension.
The Italian-built Leonardo Multi-Purpose Logistics Module now will be unberthed from the station and nestled back in Discovery's payload bay at 1:17 a.m. CST Sunday. Discovery will undock from the station about 10:30 p.m. Sunday and spend Monday stowing equipment and preparing for a return trip to Earth. With a return to the Kennedy Space Center at 11:55 p.m. CST Tuesday (12:55 a.m. EST Wednesday), Discovery will have spent almost 13 days in orbit, nine of them docked to the station.
Commander Jim Wetherbee joined the rest of his Discovery crew, the returning Expedition One crew and the Expedition Two crew in the station's Destiny Module as they answered questions from reporters during the traditional in-flight news conference. The briefing included queries from reporters in Texas, Florida, Alabama and Moscow and covered subjects ranging from whether the Expedition One crew is looking forward to its return to Earth to whether its astronauts and cosmonauts would relish another long-duration stay at the outpost.
"We basically put the space station in commission," said Bill Shepherd, who moved to the Discovery crew Wednesday. "We have taken something that was an uninhabited outpost, and we now have a fully functional station where the next crew can do research. I think that's the substance of our mission." Although Shepherd said he would be happy to return home to his family, he wasn't as sure about returning to Earth gravity. "To be honest," he said, "I'm not that anxious to see what it's going to be like."
Following a second hour-long reboost of the station, the complex is now orbiting at an altitude of about 237 statute miles.