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Space Shuttle Discovery Aims For Florida Landing

Space shuttle Discovery and its astronauts looked to end their 15-day, 6 million-mile journey Tuesday with an early morning re-entry over the Midwest, after a one-day weather delay.

This time, the weather looked as though it would cooperate.

Discovery and its crew of seven were scheduled to touch down at NASA's Florida spaceport at 7:34 a.m., shortly after sunrise. Forecasters' only concern was that fog might roll in. Patches already were shrouding parts of nearby Orlando well before dawn.

While the sky was clear over Kennedy Space Center, "there's fog in the neighborhood and we've just got to keep watching it," radioed Mission Control.

"You guys are working hard on it," said commander Alan Poindexter, "and we appreciate it."

On Monday, rain and overcast skies prevented Poindexter and his crew from wrapping up their resupply mission to the International Space Station.

NASA planned to bring Discovery back to Earth on Tuesday, if not in Florida then at the backup touchdown site in Southern California.

Either way, it was going to be a rare visual treat for early morning risers along Discovery's North American flight path.

The first landing opportunity into Kennedy Space Center would have Discovery cutting straight through the U.S. heartland: crossing over Vancouver Island and southern Alberta, then down over the northern border of Montana and North Dakota, Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn., Chicago, Indianapolis, eastern Kentucky and eastern Tennessee, the western portion of the Carolinas, eastern Georgia and out over the Atlantic east of Jacksonville and down toward Cape Canaveral.

It would be the first time since 2007 that a space shuttle has descended over so much of the United States.

NASA typically prefers bringing a shuttle home from the southwest, up over the South Pacific, Central America and the Gulf of Mexico. That way, there's minimal flying over heavily populated areas.

In 2003, space shuttle Columbia shattered over Texas during re-entry, but no one on the ground was injured by the falling wreckage.

Before leaving the space station Saturday, Poindexter and his crew dropped off tons of supplies and equipment. The main delivery was a tank full of ammonia coolant, which took three spacewalks to hook up.

A nitrogen pressure valve refused to open after the tank was installed, and for a day, NASA considered sending the shuttle astronauts out on a fourth spacewalk to fix the problem. But engineers concluded it was not an emergency and that the space station crew or future shuttle fliers could deal with it.

History, meanwhile, was made with the presence of four women in space: three on the shuttle and one at the station.

Only three shuttle missions remain for NASA before the fleet is retired this fall after nearly 30 years of operation. Atlantis will carry up a small Russian lab and other equipment next month.

The same bad weather that prevented Discovery from returning home Monday also stalled Atlantis' trip to the launch pad. The three-mile move from the hangar has been rescheduled for Tuesday night. Liftoff is targeted for May 14.

This program aired on April 20, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

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