CAPECANAVERAL, Fla. - The seven-astronaut crew of space shuttle Discovery finisheda long journey in space today and are glad to be back on solid ground.
CommanderPamela Melroy, who led the STS-120 space station construction mission, said shefelt like hercrew hit the mission out of the park.
"Itseems like we kind of hit a triple homerun," Melroy said today. She noted thefirst was adding a new chunk of the International Space Station (ISS) and thesecond relocating a massive solar power tower. But Melroy said thethird--rescuing a tornsolar array wing at a far end of the orbital laboratory--was a crowningmoment for NASA, too.
"I have never seen anything like it," Melroy said of efforts both from space and MissionControl in Houston, Texas, who scrambled to devise a repair plan. "I don't think anyone at the Johnson Space Center probably slept for two or three days."
Melroy wasjoined by pilot George Zamka, mission specialists Stephanie Wilson, Dan Tani,Doug Wheelock and Scott Parazynski, and Italian spaceflyer Paolo Nespoli.
Wheelock,who assisted Parazynski on the torn solar blanket spacewalk, said watching hiscompanion stitch in homemade"cuff links" into the array wing was an amazing sight.
"Itwas like watching a surgeon," Wheelock said of Parazynski, who is atrained medical doctor.
Theastronauts performed another vital task for the future of the ISS during their15-day mission: Taking up astronaut Dan Tani to replace Clay Anderson, flightengineer and five-month spaceflyer on the ISS.
Anderson conducteda tear-jerking ceremony before he left the space station, playing Bing Crosby'srendition of "Danny Boy" to welcome Tani to the space station and"Coming Home" by Collective Soul" to send himself off. Themoment choked up ISS commander Peggy Whitson and had the rest of the crew--all but one, that is.
"Ididn't cry, but I was thinking about it," said Zamka, a formermarine lieutenant. The shuttle pilot said Anderson had emotional supportduring his 152 days, but noted his lack of a core group to fall back on madethe Nebraska native's departure tough.
As for thetears they all shed, Melroy broke down the physics of zero-gravity crying.
"Theyjust kind of stay there till you wipe them away," Melroy said, withWheelock chiming in that they turn into "salty balls."
AlthoughDiscovery's crew landed safely on the ground today, NASA has no plans to slowdown arrival of shuttle Atlantis and the STS-122 crew in early December.
The threeExpedition 16 crew members on board the space station--Tani, Whitson andcosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko--have less than one month to perform what NASAofficials called three extremelytough spacewalks today.
Theextravehicular activities will relocate and prepare the new Harmony module as aconnection point for the soon-to-arrive Columbus laboratory, slated to fly onshuttle Atlantis in early December.
Mission managers also said that fixing a grittyset of gears, used to orient some of the space station's solar arraystoward the Sun, won't be impossible but will take quite a bit of time.
Today'ssuccessful landing ended Discovery's 34th spaceflight. It was the 23rd shuttlemission to the ISS and the 120th shuttle to fly.
- VIDEO: Discovery's STS-120 Astronaut Crew Speak Out
- NEW IMAGES: Launch Day for Shuttle Discovery
- SPACE.com VIDEO Interplayer: STS-120 Mission Brings 'Harmony' to ISS