Discovery departed the International Space Station at 5:39 p.m. Central today as the two spacecraft flew 245 miles above northwest Mongolia, leaving the new outpost stocked with more than two tons of supplies and equipment for future crews.
Pilot Rick Husband backed Discovery away after astronaut Tammy Jernigan commanded the shuttle's docking mechanism to release the station. Springs in the mechanism provided an initial push, and then Husband fired Discovery's jets to move to a distance of about 400 feet before beginning a two and a half-circle flyaround. Discovery spent 5 days, 18 hours and 17 minutes linked to the station.
The crew awakened this afternoon to Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird" in anticipation of Discovery's departure from the International Space Station. Atlantis will be the next shuttle to visit the station on a December supply mission, after the Russian launch this fall of an unpiloted living quarters that will automatically dock with the modules. The Service Module, now named Zvezda, which is the Russian word for 'Star,' is undergoing its final months of processing at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, prior to launch atop a Proton rocket.
After the flyaround, Husband fired Discovery's jets at about 7:53 p.m. Central to depart the station's vicinity. The engine firing sent the Shuttle below and ahead of the station, separating at a rate of about seven nautical miles with each orbit of Earth. Later this evening the crew will transfer the spacesuits used earlier in the flight to storage locations in the shuttle's airlock. Commander Kent Rominger will repressurize Discovery's cabin to about 14.7 pounds per square inch, a pressure identical to sea level on Earth. The cabin was depressurized slightly yesterday as part of the normal procedure for sealing hatches within the International Space Station. The crew will have time off for the last half of its day.
After Discovery has left the vicinity, station flight controllers will maneuver the complex into the standard orientation for unpiloted operations, a fuel-conserving slow spin with the Unity module pointed toward Earth and Zarya toward space. Discovery's crew will begin an eight-hour sleep period at 7:50 a.m. Central Friday and awaken at 3:50 p.m.
The next STS-96 mission status report will be issued at about 7 a.m. Friday or as developments warrant.