(Cape Canaveral, FL) — The
space shuttle Discovery left earth orbit this morning and glided home
across America’s heartland with a sunrise landing upon America’s Space
Coast.

Discovery
returned home following fifteen full days in space which saw the
orbiter docked to the International Space Station for ten day’s during the resupply
mission.

As NASA’s
oldest active space shuttle returned to Florida, she and her crew of
seven crossed over the United States beginning over Northern Idaho;
over Helena, Montana; southeastward to Little Rock; down to Montgomery
and into northern Florida.

Discovery’s main gear touched down upon runway 33 at the Kennedy Space Center at 9:08:35 am EDT, at a speed of 206 mph.

Commander
Alan Poindexter then lowered the nose of the orbiter down allowing it
to hit the runway twelve seconds later. Pilot James Dutton deployed the
drag chute just prior to the nose touchdown to slow the orbiter as she rolled to
a stop after traveling 6,232,235 miles since liftoff on April 5th.

Wheels
stop occurred at 8:09:33 am, giving NASA’s 131st space shuttle mission a
flight duration of 15 days, 2 hours, 48 minutes and 8 seconds,
according to Mission Control.

It was the 74th landing by a space shuttle at Kennedy, and was the 38th space flight by Discovery.

Discovery’s
crew includes Poindexter, Dutton and Mission Specialists Rick
Mastracchio, Stephanie Wilson, Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger, Japanese
astronaut Naoko Yamazaki and Clayton Anderson.

As
the spacecraft flew 223 miles above the northern coastline of
Australia, Discovery fired her twin orbital maneuvering engines for 2
minutes, 57 seconds beginning at 8:02:55 am.

The burn slowed the ship down by 205 miles per hour, decreasing her orbital velocity to allow the craft to drop out of orbit.

At
8:26 am, both Poindexter and Dutton were surprised at one point as the the forward
jets of the orbiter began firing to maneuver the ship for her entry
interface minutes later.

Reentry
of Discovery back into the earth’s atmosphere began at 8:27 am as the
orbiter flew 399,800 feet over the northern Pacific Ocean, flying
at a speed of 16,900 mph.

At this point, Discovery was 2,005 miles ahead of the space station.

The mission flew with several high points and a few low points.

Moments
after reaching orbit, the crew experienced a glitch with the ship’s
high gain television antenna known as the KU-band. The mission had to
be reworked since the crew were not able to use the antenna for
television downlink or high data speed-related transmissions.

The
crew also had to wait until after docking with the space station to
downlink the thermal protection system survey which was performed on
day two of the flight.

A
nominal docking on day three of the mission lead to the start of the crew off
loading 8,000 pounds of fresh supplies and new equipment from the
Leonardo module to the orbital complex.

Astronaut
Wilson used the station’s robotic arm to reach into Discovery’s bay and
pluck out the cargo module and dock it to the station. It stayed docked
to the Harmony module for eight days.

On
the third and final spacewalk of the flight, an issue arose with the
nitrogen valve on the newly installed ammonia tank assembly located on
the starboard truss segment of the station.

The
issue remains on going and space station controllers are continuing to
look into what can be done to repair the valve on the cooling system of
the station’s avionics.

Discovery’s
next mission is scheduled for September on a flight which will likely
shift from the final flight of a space shuttle to the second from final
flight soon due to a payload issue with a summer shuttle flight.

Discovery soars over America's spaceport on April 20, 2010.

Discovery lands at the Kennedy Space Center today. (NASA)

 Images via NASA/ KSC