The space shuttle Atlantis is scheduled to return to Earth early this morning, according to NASA, after the crew spent the Thanksgiving holiday dining on smoked turkey and cornbread.
Mission Control Capcom Chris Ferguson radioed a "go for deorbit burn" to Atlantis Commander Charlie Hobaugh at 8:14 a.m. Friday morning. The 3-minute, 7-second maneuver scheduled for 8:37 a.m. will slow Atlantis by more than 200 miles per hour and lead to a landing at 9:44 a.m. at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Atlantis will be bringing home Mission Specialist and former Expedition 20 and 21 Flight Engineer Nicole Stott, who spent 87 days on the International Space Station. NASA announced that her return brings to an end to nearly a decade of space shuttle use to rotate crew on the station.
Officials said with the weather in Florida was "looking perfect for a landing"; Atlantis' first opportunity is at Kennedy Space Center on orbit 171. It would see a deorbit burn at 8:37 a.m., with the landing occurring at 9:44 a.m. At 8:43 NASA reported Atlantis fired its orbital maneuvering system engines on time to brake the spacecraft enough to begin its flight through Earth's atmosphere. Landing is on schedule, the space agency said.
"The deorbit process starts a careful choreography that will see Atlantis fire its twin orbital maneuvering system engines to slow the spacecraft by about 200 mph," NASA posted on the STS-128 Landing Blog. "Then Hobaugh will flip Atlantis so its heat shield is facing the Earth's atmosphere. The shuttle will slow relatively quickly as it gets into thicker and thicker areas of the atmosphere."
The blog explains that Hobaugh, with Pilot Barry Wilmore seated next to him in the cockpit, will guide the shuttle during the unpowered glide over Florida and through a circular course above Kennedy to line up Atlantis with the runway.
Atlantis is winding up a mission that included three spacewalks and more than six days at the International Space Station. The orbiter took 14 tons of cargo in its payload bay-including two large carriers with spare parts to sustain station operations after the shuttles are retired next year-to the orbiting laboratory. Tuesday at 10 a.m., European Space Agency astronaut Frank De Winne handed over command of the station to NASA astronaut Jeff Williams. De Winne and Expedition 21 Flight Engineers Roman Romanenko and Robert Thirsk are scheduled to leave the station for return to Earth in a Soyuz capsule on Nov. 30.