June 14, 2008 – Cape Canaveral, Fla. -- Space shuttle Discovery and its crew landed at 11:15 a.m. EDT Saturday at Kennedy Space Center, completing a 14-day journey of more than 5.7 million miles in space.
The STS-124 mission was the second of three flights to launch components to the International Space Station to complete the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Kibo laboratory. Discovery delivered Kibo's tour bus-sized Japanese Pressurized Module, or JPM, which is the station's largest module.
The mission included three spacewalks to install and outfit the JPM and activate its robotic arm system. The lab's logistics module, which was delivered and installed in a temporary location in March, was attached to its permanent position on top of the JPM. In addition, the crew also fixed a faulty toilet on the station, replacing a pump.
Mission Specialist Greg Chamitoff remained aboard the space station, replacing Expedition 17 Flight Engineer Garrett Reisman, who returned to Earth on Discovery after nearly three months on the station. Chamitoff will return on shuttle Endeavour's STS-126 mission, targeted for launch Nov. 10.
Although there are more pieces to add on future flights, astronaut Michael Fossum said the addition of Kibo made the station look nearly complete.
"It was a great feeling of accomplishment as we backed away (from the station)," he said.
Akihiko Hoshide, a Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut, spent time on Earth monitoring Kibo's preparation for space. Saying goodbye to it in orbit was not easy. "When we went to close the hatch, that was a tender moment, it was kind of sad," he said.
NASA and Japanese officials hailed the flight just after landing.
"I can't think of a mission really that's been better than this one," said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator of Space Operations. "We're starting to break that tie to planet Earth and get out and do what exploration is."
With Discovery and its crew safely home, the stage is set for the launch of STS-125 on Oct. 8. Atlantis' mission will return the space shuttle to the Hubble Space Telescope for one last visit before the shuttle fleet retires in 2010. Over 12 days and five spacewalks, Atlantis' crew will make repairs and upgrades to the telescope, preparing it for at least another five years of research.
Space shuttle Discovery lands at Kennedy Space Center, Fla. Photo credit: NASA/Kevin O'Connell
Backdropped by Earth's horizon and the blackness of space, the International Space Station is seen from space shuttle Discovery as the two spacecraft begin their separation. Earlier the STS-124 and Expedition 17 crews concluded almost nine days of cooperative work onboard the shuttle and station. Credit: NASA
STS-124 Commander Mark Kelly, right, talks with NASA Associate Administrator Chris Scolese and NASA Associate Administrator for Space Operations Bill Gerstenmaier underneath space shuttle Discovery shortly after landing.
Photo credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls