STS-116 Commander Mark Polansky, Pilot Bill Oefelein, and Flight Engineer Bob Curbeam started checking out Discovery’s aerodynamic control surfaces at 9:31 a.m. CST, and test firing the shuttle's steering jets at 10:11 a.m. The commander and pilot also practiced landings on a laptop computer trainer, and performed final checks of the communications systems that will be used for landing.
A little later in the day, Mission Specialists Christer Fuglesang and Joan Higginbotham deployed a third small satellite from the shuttle’s cargo bay. The Atmospheric Neutral Density Experiment (ANDE) microsatellite, ejected at 12:23 p.m., will gather information on atmospheric drag in low-Earth orbit. The first two microsatellites were deployed Wednesday.
Mission Specialists Nicholas Patrick joined the rest of the crew in talking with reporters from CNN and ABC. Oefelein, who considers Anchorage, Alaska, to be his hometown, was the main focus of questions from students at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska in Kenai.
Throughout the day, the crew took turns securing their gear for landing. The crew will awaken at 6:17 a.m. Friday, and begin final deorbit preparations at 9:48 a.m.
Entry Flight Director Norm Knight said landing sites at Kennedy Space Center, Fla.; Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.; and White Sands Space Harbor, N.M., all will be activated to support landing. The Friday forecast calls for a chance of rain and low clouds at Kennedy; potential strong crosswinds at Edwards; and acceptable landing conditions at White Sands.
Knight said the entry team’s strategy will be to watch weather conditions carefully, focusing – in order – on the first landing opportunity in Florida, the second opportunities in Florida and California, and the third opportunities in California and New Mexico. A fourth California opportunity is available, but may not be used. Saturday landing opportunities are available at all three locations if weather prohibits a Friday landing.
Discovery’s first landing opportunity Friday is to Kennedy, beginning with a deorbit engine firing at 1:49 p.m. CST with wheels touching down at 2:56 p.m. CST. The next opportunity is to Edwards with an engine firing at 3:19 p.m. CST leading to a 4:27 p.m. touchdown. The first opportunity to land at White Sands begins with an engine firing at 3:20 p.m. CST leading to a touchdown in New Mexico at 4:27 p.m.
Opportunities also exist for Discovery to land at Edwards with an engine firing at 4:54 p.m. CST leading to touchdown at 6 p.m. CST. A second opportunity to land at White Sands begins with an engine firing by the shuttle at 4:57 p.m. CST leading to a 6:02 p.m.
touchdown. The final Friday landing opportunity is to Edwards, beginning with an engine firing at 6:32 p.m. CST leading to a touchdown at 7:36 p.m. CST.
Meanwhile, the Expedition 14 crew aboard the International Space Station, is settling back to normal operations with its new member, Flight Engineer Sunita Williams. Commander Mike Lopez-Alegria and Flight Engineer Mikhail Tyurin, are about halfway through their six-month increment. Williams, who arrived aboard Discovery, is just beginning her six months on the station. She’ll span the last half of Expedition 14 and the first half of Expedition 15.