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Mission Timeline: Discovery's Return to Flight

NASA has postponed until Tuesday the return of the Space Shuttle Discovery due to weather concerns. The crew will have several landing opportunities at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Edwards Air Force Base in California or White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico. If conditions aren't right at Kennedy, NASA is likely to turn to one of the other possible landing sites, since supplies on the shuttle will begin to run out on Wednesday.

Here's an overview of what the shuttle crew has been up to so far, and information on possible landing attempts Tuesday:

Day 1 -- July 26: Discovery to Mission Control -- Establishing Contact

10:39 a.m. - Takeoff.

1:44 p.m. - After the launch, Discovery's astronauts set up their onboard laptop link to the scientists at Mission Control. They check the Shuttle Remote Manipulator System -- the robotic arm used to grab or let go of the shuttle's payload -- to make sure it responds properly to their computer controls.

4:00 p.m. -- The astronauts are equipped with several cameras and sensors to capture every detail of the crucial moments after launch. Now in orbit, they have time to process their footage and upload it to Mission Control, where engineers will look for signs of impact with ice or bits of foam like those that damaged the Columbia shuttle.

4:39 p.m. - Crew sleeps.

Day 2 -- July 27: Inspecting the Shuttle

12:39 a.m. - Crew wakes up.

3:54 a.m. - The crew unpacks and installs their Orbiter Boom & Sensor System (OBSS), a 50-foot-long extension to the already 50-foot-long shuttle arm.

5:24 a.m. - Aided by the OBSS' two different kinds of lasers and a high-resolution TV camera, Mission Specialist Andrew Thomas inspects Discovery's nose and wings, the shuttle's most vulnerable parts during launch and re-entry.

7:29 a.m. -11:34 a.m. - The crew reviews and prepares all airlocks, spacewalk and docking equipment.

3:39 p.m. - Crew sleeps.

11:39 p.m. - Crew wakes up.

Day 3 -- July 28: Reaching the Space Station

1:39 a.m. - Discovery begins its rendezvous with the International Space Station.

6:08 a.m. - Before docking with the Space Station, Commander Eileen Collins guides Discovery through a slow back flip. Turning only three-fourths of a foot per second, at only 600 feet from the space station, the shuttle bares its belly to the station crew, so that crew members can take high-precision photographs of Discovery's heat shield for the engineers down on Earth. Pilot James Kelly navigates and cues the station crew on when to start and stop photography.

7:18 a.m. - After the 90-second belly-up, Discovery completes its approach and docks with the space station.

9:19 a.m. - The crews open their hatches and shake hands.

3:39 p.m. - Crew sleeps.

11:39 p.m. - Crew wakes up.

Day 4 -- July 29: Delivering Supplies

2:14 a.m. - Mission specialists Wendy Lawrence and Charles Camarda begin using the shuttle arms and "Raffaello" to transfer new supplies to the space station. Raffaello is an Italian-built "moving van" for space; it can support 10 tons of cargo and will transfer everything from water to lab experiments between the shuttle and the station.

7:09 a.m. - OBSS checks Discovery's heat-protection tiles.

12:44 p.m. - Shuttle/space station hatches close.

3:39 p.m. - Crew sleeps.

11:39 p.m. - Crew wakes up.

Day 5 -- July 30: First Spacewalk -- Testing New Techniques

1:39 a.m. - Discovery's astronauts prepare for the first spacewalk.

Mission Specialists Soichi Noguchi and Steve Robinson are the ones who physically perform all the spacewalks, while the rest of the crew supports their work and carries on with the mission's other objectives. To prepare themselves for conditions in space, Noguchi and Robinson must "pre-breathe" before leaving the shuttle. Pre-breathe sessions combine vigorous exercise with the breathing of pure oxygen in a chamber held at lower pressure than the rest of the shuttle. In the low pressure of outer space, nitrogen can bubble in the astronauts' blood and organs, causing decompression sickness or "the bends". The "pre-breathe" session rids their bodies of nitrogen to prevent the bends.

4:44 a.m. - Spacewalk 1 begins.

Among other tasks, Noguchi and Robinson test two new techniques for repairing Discovery's heat protection system -- the EWA (Emittance Wash Applicator) for re-applying heat-repellant coating to damaged tiles, and the NOAX (Non-Oxide Adhesive experimental) for filling and sealing dangerous cracks.

10:24 a.m. - Shuttle/space station hatches close. Discovery crew lowers the shuttle's pressure to ease the spacewalkers' transition from space conditions to normal shuttle conditions.

11:14 a.m. - Spacewalk 1 ends.

3:39 p.m. - Crew sleeps.

11:39 p.m. - Crew wakes up.

Day 6 -- July 31: Touching Base

- Rafaello-assisted transfers of cargo between the space station and Discovery continue.

- Discovery's astronauts entertain in-flight interviews and pre-breathe for the second spacewalk.

3:09 p.m. - Crew sleeps.

11:09 p.m. - Crew wakes up.

Day 7 -- Aug. 1: Spacewalk 2 -- Repairing the Station's Gyroscope

1:09 a.m. - Crew prepares for the second spacewalk and pre-breathes.

4:14 a.m. - Spacewalk 2 begins.

Noguchi and Robinson work together to replace one of the space station's four "Control Moment Gyroscopes." Each of the four is about the size of a washing machine and would weigh in at 620 pounds on Earth. Together, they counteract gravity's pull and drag to keep the station oriented while it's whirling in orbit. The gyroscope in question failed in June 2002. Since then, the station has maintained its orientation with only three gyroscopes, but as the station grows, it will need all four.

10:44 a.m. - Spacewalk ends.

3:09 p.m. - Crew sleeps.

11:09 p.m. - Crew wakes up.

Day 8 -- Aug. 2: Off-Duty

5:59 a.m. - Station and Discovery crews hold joint news conference.

6:39 a.m. - Discovery crew begins its off-duty time.

3:09 p.m. - Crew sleeps.

11:09 p.m. - Crew wakes up.

Day 9 -- Aug. 3: Final Spacewalk -- Bringing Home the MISSEs

1:09 a.m. - Crew prepares for the third and final spacewalk.

4:14 a.m. - Spacewalk 3 begins.

Noguchi and Robinson install a new TV camera and lighting unit on the station. Then they turn their attention to the materials exposure experiments known as MISSE 1 and MISSE 2. The MISSEs are like giant suitcases left open to the hazards of space. They're filled with all kinds of objects -- seeds, radiation-shielding materials, solar sensors and mirrors -- that must be tested in space before they can be used there. The spacewalkers remove these two MISSEs and replace them with MISSE 5, which runs on batteries and sends its data via wireless transmission. The first two MISSEs will return with Discovery to Earth.

8:04 a.m. - Tile Gap Filler Removal

For the first time, an astronaut makes repairs beneath an orbiting space shuttle. Robinson ventures to Discovery's underbelly to remove two pieces of gap-filling material protruding from between the shuttle's heat-shielding tiles. Had he not been able to pull the material out, he would have cut it off with a special hacksaw assembled by fellow spacewalker Noguchi and mission specialist Thomas.

10:14 a.m. - Spacewalk 3 ends.

3:09 p.m. - Crew sleeps.

11:09 p.m. - Crew wakes up.

Day 10 -- Aug. 4: Checking In

2:09 a.m. - The crew deactivates Raffaello.

3:29 a.m. - The crew talks with NBC's Today show.

5:19 a.m. - The crew talks with the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the organization in which Noguchi first served as an astronaut.

11:29 a.m. - The crew deactivates the OBSS and stows it in the payload bay.

3:09 p.m. - Crew sleeps.

11:09 p.m. - Crew wakes up.

Day 11 -- Aug. 5: Wrapping Up

6:24 a.m. - Rafaello disconnects from the space station.

7:34 a.m. - The crew stows Rafaello in Discovery's payload bay.

8:30 a.m. - The crew and NASA brief the public on the mission's status.

2:09 p.m. - Crew sleeps.

9:39 a.m. - Crew wakes up.

Day 12 -- Aug. 6: Farewell to the Space Station

12:24 a.m. - The crews of Discovery and the space station say good-bye and close their hatches.

3:32 a.m. - Discovery undocks from the Space Station. Undocking and separating from the station is delicate work and requires several hours. It involves keeping the docking ports of a 30-ton shuttle and a 40-ton space station aligned to within three inches, and then drawing them closer or farther apart at a little over an inch per second. Collins and Kelly do this while both the shuttle and the station careen through space at 17,500 mph.

5:05 a.m. - Discovery's final separation from the station.

9:30 a.m. - Mission status briefing.

12:39 p.m. - Crew sleeps.

8:39 p.m. - Crew wakes up.

Day 13 -- Aug. 7: Preparing for Return

11:39 p.m. - Final equipment checks and stowage begin.

12:49 a.m. - During what is known as a "reaction control system hot fire test," Collins and Kelly fire the shuttle's thrusters to make sure they are ready for the landing procedure. They use these thrusters to position the shuttle for re-entry and to decelerate the shuttle enough to be able to control it as it glides to the landing site.

4:14 a.m. - In-flight interviews of Discovery's crew.

9:30 a.m. - Mission status briefing.

12:39 p.m. - Crew sleeps.

8:39 p.m. - Crew wakes up.

11:34 p.m. - Crew begins to prepare to de-orbit.

Day 14 -- Aug. 8: Shuttle's Return Delayed

5:04 a.m. - Due to unstable weather conditions, NASA decides to postpone Monday's scheduled landing until Tuesday.

Day 15 -- Aug. 9: Trying Again

5:07 a.m. -- Commander Eileen Collins and her six crewmates have several landing opportunities for Wednesday. At Kennedy Space Center, the primary landing site, there are opportunities at 5:07 a.m. and 6:43 a.m.; at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., at 8:12 a.m. and 9:47 a.m.; and at the landing facility at White Sands, NM, at 6:39 a.m. and 8:13 a.m.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Gisela Telis