NASA has cleared Discovery to return to Earth next week

NASA has cleared Discovery to return to Earth next week, concluding that there was no need to send the astronauts out on another spacewalk to repair a torn thermal blanket near a cockpit window. NASA had been considering sending the astronauts out to snip away part of the blanket for fear a 13-inch section weighing just under an ounce could tear away during the latter stages of descent and strike the shuttle, perhaps causing grave danger.

Mission managers could not guarantee that a piece of the blanket will not rip off during re-entry and slam into the spacecraft, but they said the chance of that happening was remote and that it would be riskier to try to fix the problem, AP reports.

“The lowest risk, the best choice and the unanimous decision of the engineers in the management team is that we should re-enter as is,” deputy shuttle program manager Wayne Hale said yesterday.

According to Houston Chronicle, astronauts aboard space shuttle Discovery and the international space station took a few moments Thursday to mark the deaths of U.S. astronauts and Russian cosmonauts.

"Even if the future is equally unimaginable to us, we can be sure that future generations will look upon our endeavors in space as we look upon those early expeditions across the seas," said Discovery mission specialist Wendy Lawrence.

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