The STS-118 crew began its trip home today when Space Shuttle Endeavour undocked from the Space Shuttle Endeavour at 7:56 a.m. EDT. Shortly after the final separation burn, the crew began preparations for the return to Earth by conducting the final inspection of the orbiter’s heat shield.
The astronauts used Endeavour’s robot arm and a 50-foot-long Orbiter Boom Sensor System to inspect the nose cap and the leading edges of the wings. This process is conducted after undocking from the station to make sure the orbiter is ready for re-entry on landing day. STS-118’s first landing opportunity on Tuesday is at 12:32 p.m. at Kennedy Space Center, Fla.
Undocking was moved up a day in preparation for landing on Tuesday. The earlier landing opportunity was selected in the event Hurricane Dean threatens the Houston area. It allows an opportunity for the shuttle to land before Mission Control, Houston, would be shut down in preparation for a storm. Mission managers are continuing to monitor the situation and assess their options.
The seven STS-118 astronauts are scheduled to enjoy some well deserved off-duty time after a busy stay at the station, which began Aug. 10. The STS-118 crew installed the Starboard 5 (S5) truss segment and transferred tons of cargo between the shuttle and the station. The STS-118 crew conducted four spacewalks at the station. The two major objectives were the installation of the S5 and the replacement of a failed attitude control gyroscope.