The space shuttle Endeavour and its six-member crew are expected to return to Earth Feb. 21 after a successful 14-day mission in which astronauts installed the last major component of the International Space Station. Endeavour undocked from the ISS shortly before 8 p.m. EDT on Feb. 19.
After a fly around the ISS, the shuttle crew unberthed the orbiter boom sensor system for an inspection scan of the shuttle's heat shield before departing for the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Feb. 21 landing opportunities at Kennedy are at 10:16 p.m. and 11:51 p.m. EST. There are additional opportunities at 1:20 a.m. and 2:55 a.m. EST Monday at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., a backup landing site.
Over the course of three spacewalks on the mission, Endeavour's crew installed the 16-ton Tranquility node and its cupola -- the so-called room with a view. After the node and cupola were added, the orbiting laboratory is approximately 90 percent complete.
According to NASA, the cupola's windows will be more than trim. As more cargo vehicles begin frequenting the space station, the station's robotic arm is going to be called into action to capture some of them as they approach and guide them into their docking port. The cupola will provide additional views for those operations.
Tranquility was built for NASA by Thales Alenia Space in Turin, Italy, under contract to the ESA (European Space Agency). Although Tranquility was actually delivered in May, NASA did not officially take possession until Nov. 30.
NASA has been touting the delivery of the Tranquility mode and its attached Cupola since last summer.
"This flight will, I think, grab the public's attention," said Kirk Shireman, ISS program deputy manager. "It's just going to be a really, really neat module for those on board. The dream of being able to go out and just have an unencumbered view of space - we'll have it. You can open up all the windows and look around and really feel like you're out there."