Space shuttle Discovery readies for return

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DALLAS, Nov 6 (Reuters) The crew of the shuttle Discovery readied their spacecraft today for its return to Earth after an eventful mission to the International Space Station.

Chores ahead of their expected landing at Kennedy Space Center in Florida tomorrow included stowing equipment and a test of the reaction control system which controls the fuel and temperature in the engine tanks for re-entry.

The flight control system, which among other things is used to land the shuttle, was also being tested while equipment was being stowed.

After Discovery departed from the space station on Monday, astronauts used the shuttle's robot arm and sensor-laden inspection boom to examine the ship's heat shield, ensuring it was safe for the fiery return through Earth's atmosphere.

''Inspections turned up no damages or problems for re-entry,'' a NASA spokesman said.

NASA proceeds with extreme caution as it wants no repeat of the disaster that saw the shuttle Columbia disintegrate over Texas in 2003 as it returned to Earth.

The shuttle launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on October 23 and is scheduled to land there at 1:02 pm (1132 IST) tomorrow.

The crew includes returning space station flight engineer Clay Anderson, who was replaced by astronaut Dan Tani.

The Harmony module delivered by Discovery was the first new room added to the outpost in six years.

It will serve as the berthing port for European and Japanese laboratories scheduled for delivery starting in December as NASA pushes to finish the outpost before the shuttle fleet is retired in 2010.

Station expansion plans may have been saved by a risky repair improvised by NASA after a solar power panel ripped in two places while it was being unfurled on October 30.

Astronaut Scott Parazynski, on the fourth spacewalk of the mission, rode the station's robot arm, extended by a boom borrowed from the shuttle, out to the partially unfolded panel to thread it with hand-fashioned cables so it would not tear further.

REUTERS SS RR RAI1749

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