TOUCHDOWN

MARCH 27 2009 20:25h

Space Shuttle Crew Prepares Ship For Landing

The Space Shuttle Discovery lands at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida

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Discovery`s touchdown was scheduled for 1:39 p.m. EDT (1739 GMT) at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The shuttle Discovery's astronauts packed their gear and tested the spaceship's landing systems on Friday, aiming for a Saturday touchdown in Florida at the end of a scheduled 13-day flight.

The shuttle delivered the last set of solar panel wings to the International Space Station, boosting the station's power for science experiments and equipment to sustain six full-time residents -- twice the current crew size -- as early as May.

Discovery's touchdown was scheduled for 1:39 p.m. EDT (1739 GMT) at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Meteorologists predicted good weather for the landing.

"We'll keep our fingers crossed," shuttle commander Lee Archambault radioed to Mission Control after hearing the forecast.

NASA's next space shuttle flight, a final servicing call to the Hubble Space Telescope, is scheduled for launch on May 12 with the shuttle Atlantis.

In preparation for landing, Archambault, pilot Tony Antonelli and flight engineer Steven Swanson test-fired Discovery's 44 steering jets and checked out the ship's movable surfaces used for aerodynamic control.

The crew left behind one astronaut, Japan's Koichi Wakata, for a four-month stay as one of the space station's flight engineers, and returns home with another, American Sandra Magnus, who has been in orbit since November.

She spent part of her last scheduled day in space exercising in an attempt to mitigate some of the disquieting aspects of returning to Earth's gravity. To help maintain her bones and strength in weightlessness, Magnus, like all long-duration crewmembers, exercised about two hours a day.

"Tomorrow I'll find out how good of a job I did," she told a group of school children in Hawaii during an in-flight chat by video call on Friday afternoon.

Wakata will be getting two new crewmates on Saturday, as well as a visit from Hungarian-born U.S. billionaire space tourist Charles Simonyi.

A Russian Soyuz capsule with the new crew is scheduled to arrive at the station a few hours before Discovery's landing. Simonyi will return home with station commander Mike Fincke and flight engineer Yury Lonchakov on April 7 on a Soyuz capsule.