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Shuttle set to undock from space station and head home

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The space shuttle Discovery will detach from the International Space Station (ISS) today at 3:53 P.M. (Eastern Daylight Time) and head back to Earth. It's scheduled to land at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Saturday afternoon.

After undocking, the shuttle will perform a fly-around of the ISS so the Discovery crew can photograph the station with its full complement of solar arrays. The mission delivered the final pieces of the ISS's solar backbone in anticipation of the crew size expanding from three to six in the coming months. Once the shuttle distances itself from the ISS, the shuttle's crew will conduct a final inspection of Discovery's thermal shield with the orbiter's boom-mounted sensor. A similar inspection was performed before docking.

Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata, who flew to the ISS on Discovery, will remain on the station until late May at the earliest as flight engineer, replacing NASA astronaut Sandra Magnus, who is returning with the shuttle crew.

Photo of ISS and Discovery crew parting ways: NASA TV

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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