Discovery Aims For Landing

Sunday, October 22nd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SPACE CENTER, Houston (AP) — The crew of space shuttle Discovery planned to end its space station construction mission Sunday, although strong runway crosswinds could interfere and push the landing back.

NASA will keep a close eye on winds at Kennedy Space Center expected to be at or above the landing limit of 17 mph.

``Because it is a direct crosswind, that would be a no-go forecast,'' shuttle entry flight director Leroy Cain said.

Discovery has two opportunities to land Sunday, and if not, there is enough fuel to keep the shuttle aloft through Wednesday. Shuttle managers have chosen not to use Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., as a secondary landing site Sunday, though it could be an option for subsequent days, Cain said.

The astronauts, who finished packing up the shuttle before taking some recreational time Saturday, had mixed emotions about ending their successful mission.

``It's a wonderful feeling to look out into the payload bay'' and see the new space station pieces gone, said pilot Pamela Melroy. ``Once you've done something that you came here to do, there is a part of you that's ready to come home.''

Disbanding the crew will be difficult, she said, since the members became like family during three years of training together.

Their mission — NASA's 100th space shuttle flight — saw the seven astronauts add two new segments to the orbiting complex, boosting its mass to 80 tons. An aluminum framework containing antennas and motion-control gyroscopes was installed, along with a new shuttle docking port. Four spacewalks, on four consecutive days, were required to make all the connections.

Thanks to the shuttle crew's effort, the space station is now ready for occupancy.

NASA astronaut Bill Shepherd and two Russian cosmonauts are scheduled to blast off from Kazakstan on Oct. 31. They will arrive two days later for a four-month stay.

The next shuttle to visit the space station will be Endeavour, scheduled to deliver huge solar panels in December. Atlantis is to follow with the American lab Destiny in January, and Discovery is to return in February with replacements for Shepherd and his crew.

NASA expects to complete the space station by 2006.