Flight day 12
Discovery returns and lands
The last day is solely concerned with the preparations for the actual landing. In the most part they are the same as those we carried out immediately after the launch eleven days ago, except in the reverse order. As before, I am responsible for the work on the mid-deck.
Everything gets put into place and one-by-one the crewmembers put on their spacesuits, beginning with the Commander and the Pilot. Even the orange spacesuits are fairly awkward to put on so we help each other; we also help each other to get fastened into the seats. I am the last to get into position and mostly have to take care of myself.
Joanie and Nick have changed places, so that Joanie also gets to experience some of the enjoyment of the trip and the view from the flight deck. I, however, have the same place as before, with the same responsibility for an eventual emergency evacuation. Mark thought that I would have enough good views during my spacewalks, so I could manage without a window seat during the launch or landing.
During our 171st orbit of the Earth, on the other side of the planet from Florida, Mark ignites the rockets that, during a couple of minutes of burn, will brake Discovery enough to change course; so that we begin our descent towards the atmosphere.
Immediately before we re-enter over America we reach the atmosphere’s outermost layer and then the air takes care of the rest. The air friction slows us more and more, at the same time as the heat-shields warm up to over one thousand degrees. It isn't a question, however, of a lot of G-forces, there isn't more than 1.5 G at the most, which can be compared to the Soyuz capsule which usually reaches over four G when braking in the atmosphere.
Mark takes manual control of Discovery, just over one hour after the braking thrusts, and lands elegantly on the four and a half kilometre long landing runway at the Kennedy Space Centre. Mission STS-116/ISS-12A.1 is completed.
Last update: 26 October 2006