After leaving the International Space Station behind, Discovery's astronauts were rewarded with several hours of scheduled off-duty time in recognition of their ambitious pace of activities over the past several days.
Discovery undocked from ISS at 5:39 p.m. central time yesterday, having delivered more than two tons of water, supplies and equipment to the space station.
As Discovery departed from the station, Mission Specialists Tammy Jernigan and Dan Barry packed away the space suit gear they used during their spacewalk early in the mission, while Commander Kent Rominger and Pilot Rick Husband practiced landings on a laptop computer program. Mission Specialists Julie Payette and Valery Tokarev helped to stow gear and repressurized the shuttle's cabin to its standard 14.7 pounds per square inch.
Once they are awakened at 3:50 this afternoon, the astronauts will focus on preparing for a Sunday landing at the Kennedy Space Center. Rominger, Husband and Mission Specialist Ellen Ochoa will conduct a test to verify the performance of Discovery's steering jets. They also will activate one of three hydraulic power units to move the various aerosurfaces that will be used to control Discovery during its reentry and landing. The crew also will prepare to deploy a small, student-built payload called STARSHINE. The Student Tracked Atmospheric Research Satellite for Heuristic International Networking Equipment satellite will be ejected from a canister in Discovery's payload bay at 2:10 a.m. Saturday by Payette. STARSHINE is a 19-inch hollow sphere covered by about 800 aluminum mirrors polished to a high shine by students around the world. International student observers will visually track the reflective spacecraft during the early morning and twilight hours for several months, measuring the atmosphere's density based on the rate at which STARSHINE's orbit decays.
Discovery has two Sunday landing opportunities on Kennedy Space Center's Runway 15. The first would begin with a deorbit burn at 11:54 p.m. CDT Saturday, and end with a landing at 1:03 a.m. Sunday. The second calls for a deorbit burn at 1:30 a.m. CDT Sunday, with landing at 2:38 a.m. The weather forecast calls for generally acceptable conditions.
The next STS-96 mission status report will be issued at about 7 p.m. Friday or as developments warrant.