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Episode 170: STS-85 - The World’s Biggest Birthday Candles (SPAS, Small Fine Arm)

It’s Kent Rominger’s birthday, so what better way to celebrate than launching into space? Along the way we’ll send CRISTA-SPAS out for one last adventure, try out a Japanese robot arm, take pictures of comets, and try to avoid Blue Screens of Death.

By the way, I did hit a BSOD while editing the episode, but luckily no data was lost!

Episode Audio>

Episode Audio #


Photos #

CRISTA-SPAS seen over the limb of the Earth
The STS-85 crew gathered on the middeck
Aurora pictured behind Space Shuttle Discovery
The STS-85 crew looking over notes on the flight deck
Various equipment in Discovery’s payload bay on STS-85

And thanks again to, which is where I got the photos for these tweets. Head over to to check out the incredible work being done there!

Post-Flight Presentation>

Post-Flight Presentation #

If you’d like to see the mission in motion you can check out the post-flight presentation here:

Wake Up Calls>

Wake Up Calls #

Thanks again to TSAU listener broe91 for putting together a Spotify playlist of all the songs used as wakeup calls for the mission. This mission is a little more patriotic in nature than the last time we did this, but that’s still fun!


Transcript #

NOTE: This transcript was made by me just copying and pasting the script that I read to make the podcast. I often tweak the phrasing on the fly and then forget to update the script, so this is not guaranteed to align perfectly with the episode audio, but it should be pretty close. Also, since these are really only intended to be read by myself, I might use some funky punctuation to help remind myself how I want a sentence to flow, so don’t look to these as a grammar reference. If you notice any egregious transcription errors or notes to myself that I neglected to remove, feel free to let me know and I’ll fix it.

Hello, and welcome to The Space Above Us. Episode 170, Space Shuttle flight 86, STS-85: The World’s Biggest Birthday Candles

Last time, we made sure we weren’t seeing double, as for the first time a Space Shuttle mission launched with the same orbiter, same primary payload, and same crew as its previous flight. With STS-83 cut short by a problematic fuel cell, STS-94 was added to give it another shot, successfully completing the 16 day mission. Today we jump back down the mission numbering to STS-85 with a flight that has a little bit of everything.

I don’t have any insight into how this particular mission was planned, but it sort of feels like some last minute flying of a bunch of not really related payloads before the ISS construction phase of the shuttle program got going. But that means that we get a little slice of everything the shuttle program had to offer. Free-flying science experiments, specialized telescopes, student experiments, tech demos, life sciences, crystals, rendezvous and even some opportunistic astronomy thanks to comet Hale-Bopp. So I guess we better not waste any time and just jump into it.

Commanding the flight was Curt Brown, who we’ve seen a few times now. When Brown last flew, he was serving as the Pilot on STS-77, with the innovative and sort of crazy Inflatable Antenna Experiment. Today he’s made the move over to the seat on the left on this, his fourth of six flights.

Joining Brown up front is today’s Pilot, Kent Rominger. When we last saw Rominger he was on Space Shuttle Columbia for STS-80, deploying and retrieving the Wake Shield Facility on its third and final flight, while also trying to help Tammy Jernigan and Tom Jones open the airlock hatch. This is his third of five flights.

Behind Rominger we find another familiar face: Mission Specialist 1 Jan Davis. When we last saw Davis she was flying on STS-60, the first flight of the Wake Shield Facility, which also carried a boatload of science experiments in the SPACEHAB module in the payload bay. This is her third and final flight.

This flight also has a few rookies, so let’s learn how they got here! Right in the middle of the flight deck was Mission Specialist 2 Bob Curbeam. Robert Curbeam was born on March 5th, 1962 in Baltimore, Maryland. Curbeam went to college just down the road from where he grew up, picking up a Bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering from the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. He would later earn a Master’s in Aeronautical Engineering and a degree in Aeronautical & Astronautical Engineering, both from the Naval Postgraduate School. I’m not entirely sure how those two aren’t just the same degree but that’s what every source I found said so I’m going with it. As you may have guessed, Curbeam served in the Navy, making overseas deployments on aircraft carriers, graduating Test Pilot School, and attending the Navy Fighter Weapons School aka Topgun. He was selected as an astronaut in December of 1994 and this is his first of three flights.

Moving downstairs we meet Mission Specialist 3, Steve Robinson. Stephen Robinson was born on October 26th, 1955 in Sacramento, California. He earned dual Bachelor’s degrees in Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering from the University of California at Davis, and then a Master’s and Doctorate in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University. He joined NASA before even finishing his undergraduate degree, working at NASA Ames first as part of a student co-op and then as a research scientist studying fluid dynamics, aerodynamics, experimental instrumentation, and computational scientific visualization. He was selected to lead the Experimental Flow Physics Branch at NASA Langley, on the other side of the country, leading a team of 35 engineers and scientists. He conducted research that flew on STS-58, the second Spacelab Life Sciences flight, before being selected as an astronaut himself in December of 1994. Oh, and he was the lead guitar player in the all-astronaut band “Max Q”. This is his first of four flights.

And last but certainly not least, our lone Payload Specialist for this flight, Payload Specialist 1 Bjarni Tryggvason. Bjarni Tryggvason was born on September 21st, 1945, in Reykjavik, Iceland. When he was still young his family moved to Canada, first to Nova Scotia and then to British Columbia. He earned a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering Physics from the University of British Columbia and completed his postgraduate work in Engineering with a specialization in Applied Mathematics and Fluid Dynamics from the University of Western Ontario. He was selected in the first group of Canadian astronauts all the way back in 1983, training as a backup Payload Specialist for STS-52. Among other things, he was the principal investigator for the Microgravity vibration Isolation Mount 2, which is flying on this mission. This is his only spaceflight.

The launch slipped by a few weeks in order to accommodate the newly added STS-94, reflying the MSL-1 payload, but otherwise STS-85 had a smooth road to the launchpad. In a fun twist, the delay meant that the rescheduled launch now took place on Pilot Kent Rominger’s birthday. So extrapolating from Alan Shepard’s famous entreaty to “light this candle”, that means that Rominger got the world’s biggest birthday candles. Let’s just hope he doesn’t blow them out.

The only notable issue during the final buildup to launch was a sluggish actuator that was discovered during a gimballing test of one of the Orbital Maneuvering System engines. Basically they wiggled the little engines from side to side and saw some slightly unusual behavior, but after some investigation it turned out to not be a show-stopper, so on with the show.

On August 7th, 1997, at 10:41am Eastern Daylight Time, Space Shuttle Discovery lifted off for the 23rd time and soared into a 57 degree inclination orbit. As has been the standard for ages now, this was a direct insertion ascent, but I bring it up because I somehow still find myself amazed by how it works. When Discovery shut down its engines, the high point of its orbit was 297 kilometers above the surface of the earth, but the low point was only around 38 kilometers, well within the atmosphere. But when Discovery arrived at that high point 37 minutes after lifting off, the pilot crew fired up the OMS engines and circularized their orbit, raising the low point to match the high point, and settling Discovery in to its mission orbit.

The ascent had no issues but did have some points of interest to mention. This was the first flight of a new iteration of the onboard software, which among other things continued to make tiny changes to squeeze just a little more performance out of the shuttle. For example, with a tweak of the pitch rate at SRB separation, this update enabled Discovery to arrive on orbit with a just a little bit more payload. Also, I want you all to know that in between writing that previous sentence and this one I spent over an hour trying to find the document that mentioned exactly how much additional payload was made by possible by each little tweak and why, but it seems to be lost to the aether. Oh well.

This was also the first flight using a new, more environmentally friendly, foam on the side walls of the External Tank. It had actually been used on the aft dome starting with STS-79 but was now used on much more of the tank’s surface. It turned out that the old foam was made using chemicals that weren’t great for the ozone layer, and I guess someone thought it would be silly to actively damage the ozone layer on the way up to study it.

Lastly, this launch represents the 500th person to fly on the space shuttle.. sort of. If you’re familiar with the term, it’s basically the 500th person turnstile, so if the same person flew fives times they get counted five times despite only being one person. 500 people, where does the time go. Oh and if you’re curious, that works out to an average of 5.8 people per flight at this point in the program.

Within only a few hours of arriving on orbit, the crew were preparing to deploy the primary payload for this flight: CRISTA-SPAS. This is the second iteration of the CRISTA-SPAS experiment, which we first saw back on STS-66. CRISTA stood for Cryogenic Infrared Spectrometers and Telescopes for the Atmosphere, and you’re not gonna believe it folks, this payload was covered in cryogenic infrared spectrometers and telescopes that they were gonna use to look at the atmosphere. Specifically, there were three telescopes and four spectrometers, all studying infrared emissions from the middle atmosphere. As we’ve discussed previously, the middle atmosphere is always a popular research topic since it’s too high for balloons to get to, but sounding rockets pass through it too quickly to get much research done. But with some clever engineering, it’s possible to study this region from space.

One of the specific goals of this experiment was to characterize small scale “filaments” in the stratosphere and what role they play in moving ozone and other chemicals around the atmosphere. These “filaments” are long thin regions of the atmosphere with different composition and temperature than their surroundings, and were also an item of interest the last time CRISTA-SPAS flew. With some new and improved hardware, the instruments on CRISTA-SPAS were more sensitive than last time so they’d be able to better understand the behavior and dynamics of this critical part of the Earth’s atmosphere. On top of that, the data would both complement and help to verify the data seen on Earth observing satellites that had been up in orbit for years, such as our old friend the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite, or UARS. And coming at it from the other direction, while CRISTA-SPAS was flying, scientists on the ground would be launching balloons, aircraft, and rockets in the swath underneath it, taking additional measurements from down below. Combining all of this data together would result in a more accurate picture of what was going on.

Only 6 hours and 43 minutes after lifting off, Mission Specialist Jan Davis manipulated the controls of the robot arm and raised CRISTA-SPAS up out of the payload bay. Visually, it looked like a bunch of big cylinders and boxes stuck together into a rectangle about as long as a car, with four struts extending down to form a pyramid underneath, all covered in white and silvery material. I think really they just wanted the long rectangle part but by adding the struts it was possible to lock it in place in the middle of the payload bay. Checkouts complete, an hour after lifting it out of the payload bay Davis released CRISTA-SPAS from the robot arm, and it set off to begin its free-flying mission.

Backing up CRISTA-SPAS, but remaining in the payload bay, was another package of scientific instruments studying the atmosphere: the Middle Atmosphere High Resolution Spectrograph Investigation, or MAHRSI. MAHRSI played a similar role on the last CRISTA-SPAS flight as well, remaining in the payload bay and making observations of the atmosphere. Specifically, MAHRSI was looking for two chemicals in particular: hydroxl and nitrous oxide. By mapping out the concentrations of these chemicals in different layers of the atmosphere, scientists would be able to learn about the health of the ozone layer as well as confirm or refute current models of how the upper atmosphere worked. And it’s important to remember that the “or refute” part of that sentence is just as important as the confirmation part. When MAHRSI last flew it revealed distributions of hydroxl that were not what was predicted by current models. So with two experiments now collecting data on the middle atmosphere, let’s take a look around and see what else we’ve got in the payload bay.

Even with CRISTA-SPAS hanging out around 100 kilometers away, the payload bay was still packed with experiments and tech demos. One notable tech demo was the Manipulator Flight Demonstration payload, which was trying out a new robot arm developed by NASDA, the Japanese space agency. As we’ll see in more detail down the line, one of the modules planned for the International Space Station was a Japanese laboratory with a unique feature: it had a back porch. Long time listeners to the podcast will be well aware that a surprising number of experiments in space boil down to “put this thing in space and wait around for a long time to see what happens.” With that in mind, the Japanese module had both a pressurized section for the crew and for regular indoors experiments, but also an unpressurized pallet where experiments could be exposed to the harsh environment of space. It would also have a small scientific airlock which allowed the crew to easily move experiments and samples out to the back porch. But how would those items get from the airlock to their spot on the pallet? Ah ha! Now you see why Japan is building a robot arm.

Specifically, this was called the “Small Fine Arm” and was about 1.5 meters, or 5 feet, long. It had a shoulder joint that could rotate along pitch or roll axes, an elbow joint that could just rotate along one axis, and a wrist that could both pitch and yaw. For several days during the flight, Mission Specialists Davis and Robinson used translational and rotational hand controllers at the aft of Discovery’s flight deck to operate the arm and simulate tasks that were expected to be performed on the ISS. For example, one motion would be to open a hinged door, and another would be to move an Orbital Replacement Unit, which was a sort of standardized box designed to make the whole process easier and not experiment-specific. Once the crew were satisfied, they would turn control over to the ground to determine the feasibility of ground operators handling routine tasks. After all, an astronaut’s time is expensive, so in the future if the ground could take care of the easy stuff then the ISS crew could focus on the tricky stuff that actually requires a human presence.

Overall the demonstration went well but it did hit some snags. Throughout the tests the arm would occasionally stop, halted by its onboard protection software. No one seems to have been quite sure what was making the protection software so overly cautious, but it may have just been an issue with the laptop computer being used to run the experiment. A fifth day of testing was added to ensure that all tests were completed, so even with the intermittent issues, the arm experiment was a success.

In a nod to the success of the Japanese robot arm, on Flight Day 10 the crew were awakened to the theme song of the iconic Japanese anime Tetsuwan Atomu, aka “Astroboy.” And actually, starting with this flight, NASA began posting audio clips of the crew wakeup songs and greetings on the mission websites. So if you ever wanted to hear an incredibly low quality version of songs like To The Moon and Back by Savage Garden, The House is Rockin’ by Stevie Ray Vaughn, or Good Vibrations by the Beach Boys, you can dig up the ancient STS-85 website. Also, I know I’ve been saying it for years, but a revamped The Space Above Us website is actually on the way soon and will include show notes, and I’m going to try hosting these clips myself. I know it’s something of a running joke, but this time the site actually exists, I’m just finishing it up and trying to add back content. So either look forward to that, or wonder why you’re hearing me talk about it years after it happened.

If you’d like to hear the crew wakeup songs in not incredibly low quality, be sure to check that show notes page or the show’s Twitter feed because podcast listener Baldrad has been putting together Spotify playlists of the wakeup calls for each episode. Check it out!

Also in the payload bay we have the heaviest collection of hitchhiker experiments seen so far, and I believe for the entire program but don’t hold me to that. Rather than going with the “contrived acronym” school of experiment naming, this one went with the “incredibly generic name” approach, so let’s meet the Technology Applications and Science payload.

There are actually eight experiments in this batch, all in their own canisters attached to a truss spanning the width of the payload bay. So I’m gonna do that thing where I just rattle them all off too fast and we’ll see how much sticks in your brain.

First, we’ve got SOLCON, the Solar Constant Experiment, from Belgium. This was seeking to measure the total solar irradiance of the Earth to within 0.01 percent of the actual value. It basically sought to determine just how much sunlight was hitting the Earth. This was an incredibly important number for understanding climate dynamics, and as usual, it was helpful for cross-checking other scientific instruments.

The Infrared Spectral Imaging Radiometer was studying clouds, which is cool but was more notable for its new infrared sensor. Usually infrared sensors needed to be cooled down to extremely low temperatures; it’s why CRISTA-SPAS has a bunch of specialized cooling equipment on it. But coolers are expensive, heavy, and yet another source of potential hardware failures. With all that in mind, ISIR would be testing out a new sensor that required minimal cooling and could make future instruments much easier to fly.

Sort of complementing ISIR was the Shuttle Laser Altimeter, which we saw fly on STS-72. SLA is back and it’s got an order of magnitude better dynamic range than it did before. It would also be studying clouds, along with other stuff on the ground, but was an active sensor, sending out laser light pulses and watching for them to bounce back. Between ISIR and SLA, the same targets were being studied using passive and active approaches.

The Critical Viscosity of Xenon experiment would be studying the behavior of Xenon around its vapor/liquid critical point. This should not be confused with the triple point, which is that sweet spot on the temperature and pressure plot where a material tries to be a gas, liquid, or solid all at the same time, but it’s a similar idea. In this case, scientists wanted to really pin down how the viscosity of Xenon changed when it was right at the point where it could be either a liquid or a gas. If I understand correctly, this was easier to do with Xenon than other substances, but it was believed that the findings would apply more generally to those other substances that weren’t as easy to work with. In order to stay right at the critical point, the Xenon would be controlled to within 30 micro-degrees of the target temperature.

Also studying thermodynamics was a new two-phase flow heat transfer system developed by Goddard Space Flight Center. This seems to be similar to some heat pipes we’ve seen fly earlier, taking advantage of the behavior of certain substances when they change back and forth between liquid and gas. If it could be made to work, future satellites could transport heat from delicate electronics out to external radiators with better efficiency and with no pesky moving parts.

There was also the Cryogenic Flight Experiment, which was a new type of cryocooler using something called the Joule-Thomson Cycle. But I think we can all agree that the real achievement was the latest innovation in acronym dynamics when they named the instrument “Cryogenic On-Orbit Long Life Active Refrigerator”, or “COOLLAR”.

And lastly we had some devices dedicated to precisely measuring the acceleration of all the other experiments, and the Space Experiment Module, which was sort of a bunch of random student experiments. The module contained a bunch of stuff including seeds, crystals, yeast, beans, and something involving layers of colored sand.

So yeah, lots of activity on the hitchhiker program!

Another batch of hitchhikers made up the International Extreme Ultraviolet Hitchhiker 2 experiment. Since I just broke down the other hitchhikers in a lot of detail, I’ll just treat this like one big thing, but it was actually four individual experiments. As you would expect from the name, they were all focused on higher energy ultraviolet light, which is another tool in the scientist toolbox for understanding what’s happening out in the cosmos. Some observations would be studying plasma trapped in a donut shape along the orbit of Io as it moves around Jupiter, which tells us both about the Jovian system environment as well as how it’s impacted by the Sun. The Sun itself would also be studied, looking at how much UV and lower X-ray light reaches the Earth from the Sun, as well as imagining the Sun in the Lyman-Alpha wavelength, which is useful for taking images of the corona, which is difficult to image on the ground. And moving to much more distant stars, globular clusters would also be studied.

In addition to all that, it also returned to a favorite of mine: shuttle-glow! Specialized cameras photographed the aurora, day and night glow, and then the dim glow that forms on the velocity-facing side of the orbiter as blasts its way through atomic oxygen hanging around even at these altitudes.

Moving inside the crew cabin, we can actually stick with the ultraviolet imagery theme. Comet Hale-Bopp was already well past its maximum brightness and was now returning back to the outer edges of the solar system to hang out for a couple thousand years. But it wasn’t out there yet, so there was still a chance to take a close look at it. By imaging the comet in the ultraviolet spectrum it would be possible to learn more about what it was made out of and how its recent passage by the sun had affected it. Normally taking UV imagery inside the crew cabin isn’t possible since all the windows are coated with a UV-blocking film. Without the Earth’s atmosphere to protect them, if the film weren’t there then astronauts would get nasty sunburns and eye damage. But with just this sort of scenario in mind, the small circular window built into the hatch did not block UV. So by fitting a special camera to this window in particular and aiming Discovery’s hatch towards the comet, the images could be acquired. Apparently the images were pretty unimpressive visually, but gathered the exact data scientists were hoping to capture, so it was a success.

Also inside were a number of smaller experiments touching on a bunch of shuttle classics. Of course, we had the seemingly mandatory crystal experiment, we had a cell processing experiment that was growing human colon cancer cells to larger sizes than were possible on the ground, and we had one tech demonstration that was near and tear to Payload Specialist Bjarni Tryggvason’s heart, since he was its principal investigator. The tech in question was the Microgravity Vibration Isolation Mount 2, or MIM. We’re actually already a little familiar with this since an earlier version is flying on Mir at the same time as this flight, but the one on STS-85 was a new and improved version. Microgravity is a great environment for performing sensitive experiments or doing stuff like letting large crystals grow undisturbed, but some forces still remain to throw a wrench in the works. First, it’s microgravity, not zero gravity, so experiments are still affected by stuff like gravity from the sun and the moon and even the rest of the spacecraft. Second, there’s the small acceleration from atmospheric drag slowing down the spacecraft, or solar radiation pressure trying to push it away from the sun. But these are pretty small, especially the solar radiation pressure. Much larger are the vibrations introduced by having a crew on board. Until we figure out how to blow up the sun and moon we can’t do much about the other disturbances, but with some clever engineering we can reduce the literal impact of the crew. By using accelerometers and actuators, the MIM apparatus would detect and counteract vibrations, leaving the environment inside pristine. In fact, the new version was an order of magnitude better than the one flying on Mir, so I guess technology is moving quickly.

Oh and one other minor thing to note here.. reading between the lines, I think this mission saw the first Blue Screen of Death, or at least the first one mentioned by the crew. For those Mac and Linux users out there, the Blue Screen of Death is the iconic error screen that Microsoft Windows displays as a last resort when it encounters an unrecoverable error. And actually, I’m recording this from a new PC which has had a couple of blue screens as I’ve been updating the drivers, so hopefully I’m not tempting fate by talking about them here. In one section of the mission report it’s stated that on one of the payload support laptop quote “a blue screen appeared with an error code” end quote. After rebooting a few times the issue went away, and it seems to have been caused by a loose keyboard connection. I know that earlier versions of Windows were very sensitive to hardware being plugged in or unplugged, so maybe some old techies can confirm that this was a likely cause for a blue screen.

Alright, it’s been over a week, we should probably go pick up CRISTA-SPAS. This entire time the pilot crew had been making occasional small maneuvers to ensure that Discovery didn’t get too far from the scientific platform, keeping it around 100 kilometers away.

The rendezvous went extremely smoothly, with the majority of burns being canceled because Discovery was so close to perfect that the usual midcourse correction burns were too small to even bother doing. In fact, for two of the burns they didn’t even use the thrusters, but instead did a water dump, using the spray of water as a sort of inefficient thruster, which I thought was a pretty clever trick.

While the main goal with this rendezvous was, of course, to pick up CRISTA-SPAS, the crew were also using it to evaluate an approach that would be used when docking with the ISS. Specifically, they were using maneuver called the Twice-Orbital-Rate V-bar Approach, or TORVA, which had Discovery move up the R-bar before swooping up to the V-bar for the final approach. To be honest, I’m not sure how this is different than what we’ve already seen a number of times already, but we’re going to be seeing TORVA a lot so we’ll have plenty of opportunity for me to get more into the details later.

With Mission Specialist Jan Davis at the controls of the remote manipulator system, CRISTA-SPAS was captured and gently returned to the payload bay. It had collected 183 hours of data, gathering data about 17 trace gases over 44,000 vertical slices of the atmosphere. Other than some minor commanding issues early on and a hiccup with its GPS transponder, its mission was as smooth as silk and a complete success.

And actually, CRISTA-SPAS wasn’t quite done yet. 17 hours after it was captured, Davis again used the RMS to raise it up above the payload bay. No, it wasn’t being sent off to fly on its own again, this was just another episode of “simulate big and heavy things we expect to deal with in the future by using big and heavy things we already have now.” By that I mean that CRISTA-SPAS was moved to a variety of orientations to allow the Canadian-made Space Vision System to get a good look at it. The SVS was a machine vision tool that helped astronauts determine the precise orientation and positioning of large and bulky spacecraft components, allowing them to move them safely. During ISS construction it wouldn’t always be possible to have a good viewing angle or even direct line of sight with large structures, so the computer would be helping out.

After four hours of this, SPAS was returned to the payload bay again, for what would prove to be the last time. The Shuttle Palette Satellite has been with us for a long time, first appearing all the way back on STS-7 and taking the first public photos of the shuttle from orbit. The STS-7 crew even had some fun with it and arranged the robot arm into the shape of the number 7. It returned to space on STS-41B for use on the end of the robot arm, but RMS problems meant it stayed firmly attached to the payload bay. We then saw it fly on its own on STS-39, STS-51, STS-66, STS-80, and now lastly with STS-85, flying a variety of scientific payloads. So long, SPAS, and thanks for all the science.

Lastly, I can’t not mention that at long last, the Midcourse Space Experiment finally had a chance to observe the orbiter. I’m not even sure if I’ve mentioned this experiment before, but it’s been mentioned in every press kit and mission report since at least STS-63. MSX was a military satellite in a 99 degree polar orbit designed to help identify ballistic missiles in flight, and on this mission it finally had a chance to observe a space shuttle, catching Discovery fire its OMS engines on flight day 11. Since this was an experiment of opportunity, no special measures were taken to arrange these observations. They were basically just hoping that one of these days the shuttle would have a chance to fire its thrusters at the same time that it was nearby MSX, and today was the day. I don’t really have a followup to that, I just was happy for this experiment that had been trying so long to get its chance. Good job, MSX.

The flight was extended by one day due to the expectation of fog at the Kennedy Space Center, so the crew had 24 more hours to enjoy the view out the window at the end of a successful mission. But after those 24 hours had passed, Discovery fired up the OMS engines and sailed through an uneventful entry, touching down at the Kennedy Space Center and closing out a mission lasting 11 days, 20 hours, 27 minutes, and 0 seconds.

This was an interesting mission, with a large variety of scientific experiments. We’re going to see fewer and fewer missions in this mold as NASA really begins to focus on ISS construction. So for now I’ll take the opportunity to savor these science grab bag flights.

Next time, after a far more eventful stay in Low Earth Orbit than he expected, Mike Foale is ready to head home. But with all the drama happening on Mir, will Congress permit his replacement to remain on the Russian space station? We’ll find out next time when we meet the Wolf who cried “GO”

Ad Astra, catch you on the next pass.