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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Landing Day for Discovery

Aired August 9, 2005 - 08:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Eleven-and-a-half minutes to touchdown for Discovery. Discovery within range of ground tracking radar now from the landing site. Discovery speed now nine times the speed of sound, Mach nine, about 6,100 miles per hour.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: And we just went through a key moment, I'd like to point out. There's a little bit of intricacy to this. But one of the moments when there was true realization at mission control that two-and-a-half years ago Columbia was lost was when the orbiter did not appear on radar. Up until that point, there were a lot of scenarios would could have involved communication loss and any number of failures, but when the vehicle didn't show up on radar, that was when it really set in that there was a loss of the vehicle and crew. And so that is a critical moment.

Just so here we are at the top of the hour. I want to tell you what's going on, if you're just tuning in. Lower part of your screen right there, if you like you can see Discovery making its way graphically, at least, towards Edwards Air Force Base. That's the destination there where the weather is perfect for a shuttle landing this morning. Not the Kennedy Space Center. The crew of seven coming back has gotten through all of the critical moments where we lost Columbia two-and-a-half years ago. The peak heating moments, the moments when Columbia did not appear on radar, and everything so far indicates that the crew and the orbiter have come through just fine.

Listening to Houston mission control for just a moment. They're getting to the point now where they're starting to think much more like an airplane as opposed to a spacecraft. Of course, it's an airplane that's a glider and they're coming back after a two-week mission. It's a tricky maneuver practiced many times. It's a calculated risk but still a one-shot deal.

Cady Coleman, take me inside the flight deck right now. What's the thinking right now? They're getting ready to actually take control. Up to this point, computers have been flying.

CADY COLEMAN, NASA ASTRONAUT: This is a point where we're getting more and more navigation information. You just heard them take tack hands (ph). They're taking that's navigational data. There's more data to come. They're about to deploy that air data probes. Literally probes that come out and tell the shuttle how many air molecules they're hitting, what altitude they're at. We have lookup tables in the software that can do this if we can't get that data but this is much more accurate data to tell us exactly what altitude we're at and where we are from the landing site. So it's busy on the flight deck. They're actually making computer entries to incorporate the data, looking at the data before they incorporate it, talking with mission control. It's a pretty intense time.

MILES O'BRIEN: As we welcome your viewers all around the world, our CNN International viewers, we're just a few moments away now, just about 10 minutes away, to the landing of the space shuttle Discovery. By all accounts, haven't heard a single thing go wrong on this descent from orbit. The reentry, the peak heating, all the key moments when Columbia was lost two-and-a-half years ago, Discovery has gone through with flying colors.

Kathy Sullivan, what are your thoughts at this moment?

KATHY SULLIVAN, MISSION SPECIALIST: Sure liked hearing that voice response to the energy and ground track call that went up to Eileen just after they came out of blackout. And (INAUDIBLE) . . .

MILES O'BRIEN: By hey, Kathy. Kathy, let me interrupt you for one second. I just want to tell our viewers what they're seeing here. These are the first pictures, 165 miles from Edwards Air Force Base. You're looking at an infrared shot of Discovery there. That white dot in the center of your screen there. I missed it. Right in the center of your screen there. That's just reflecting heat in the night sky and that tracking camera, it will get a better and better shot as time goes on.

Kathy, finish your point.

SULLIVAN: Just glad to have them back down in the atmospheric environment. As you said, beginning to act like an airplane, now beginning to navigate primarily based on data that's coming up to them from the ground. Tach ends and shortly microwave landing system data.

MILES O'BRIEN: Senator Glenn, who of course came back on the shuttle in 1998 and had a wild reentry back in 1963 after his orbital mission, you breathing a sigh of relief at this point?

JOHN GLENN: Yes, I sure am because we have a lot hanging on this. Of course, the upcoming shuttle flights, of course, will be the thing that build out this space station. It's only about two-thirds complete now. So this is a very important mission here. And for the crew's safety mainly, of course, but also for the continuum of the whole program here. So it's a very important mission.

MILES O'BRIEN: It is an important mission because NASA really had at a cross roads. We should point out all right, they said just now a call that's an important one. Taking air data.

Cady Coleman, what does that mean, the significance of that?

COLEMAN: It means they've put out those probes and those probes are working. The data looks good, looks accurate. There's actually four streams of data. They all look the same. They're actually now agreeing to supply that data to the computers. MILES O'BRIEN: So, in other words, basically it's telling the computers what's going on outside as far as the air going over the surfaces.

COLEMAN: Correct.

MILES O'BRIEN: And the computers thus because it is a fly by wire type of vehicle. In other words, computers are always involved in the decision making and whatever the pilot does goes through a computer before it gets to the control surfaces of the spacecraft.

COLEMAN: And as we get closer and closer to the ground, we're just incorporating more and more data and more accurate data so that we can really pinpoint that landing. Actually on this checklist right here, it's a pretty simple one-page thing when you think about how complicated the vehicle is. But they're marching down, as we have so many times in sims, all the way to touchdown and hopefully that word stop.

MILES O'BRIEN: And just a few items left on a very long checklist that really lasted 14 days. If you're in Los Angeles right now, quickly go outside, take a look. You might catch a glimpse of the space shuttle Discovery as it streaks over Los Angeles, right over L.A. now, on its way over the mountains and into the high desert. Edwards Air Force Base, the destination. Weather being the constraint to not having a landing here at the Kennedy Space Center today. As you see, about five minutes and change before that landing occurs.

And we have Ted Rowlands there at Edwards Air Force Base.

I'm curious, Ted, if you have heard anything yet, any sonic booms yet?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Nothing yet. We anticipate hearing it within the next minute-and-a-half to two minutes. That's what we were told, about eight minutes after. But nothing yet. We're waiting patiently. And the excitement level here, as you might imagine, is rising with every minute.

MILES O'BRIEN: Those booms are very distinct. It's kind of a double boom. It's kind of a double shock wave. Ands it is the absence of those booms that here in Florida gave people great cause for pause two-and-a-half years ago. It's like clockwork.

You can see the distinct shape of the orbiter there. Discovery will let's listen to mission control here for just a minute. James Hartsfield. He's going to explain in just a moment what's going on with the right hand turn that they're going to do. One-hundred- ninety-six-degree turn to line up on that runway 22, south westerly runway there at Edwards Air Force Base.

At this point the crew is feeling very happy, aren't they?

Kathy Sullivan, are you feeling gravity and all its effects at this point? SULLIVAN: Well, at this point, just about to intercept the imaginary circle called the heading alignment cylinder. You're thinking more than you're feeling. This now is becoming the point where Eileen will take command of the vehicle through the control stick and make the turn that lines up with the runway. So I don't remembering being too aware of what I was feeling at this point, other than paying attention to out the window and to the glide slip and heading alignment indicators.

MILES O'BRIEN: All right. Let's listen for those sonic booms. Ted Rowlands is there.

There you go.

ROWLANDS: There they were. Like two gunshots, as expected. One right after another.

MILES O'BRIEN: That's what you want to hear, Ted Rowlands. Boom, boom. Like a double barrel shotgun. And I heard the cheer. There's obviously a lot of people around there who have gathered to see this, Ted.

ROWLANDS: Yes, indeed. Gathering of base employees here and members of the media. And, as you mentioned, as soon as the double boom hit, also we hear some cheers. And now we're getting a visual of the shuttle as it makes its final descent here into Edwards.

MILES O'BRIEN: You actually can see it. Maybe we can dial in and listen a little bit to the audio coming out of mission control.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That Discovery is on course with 180 degrees left to go in its turn to align with runway 22.

MILES O'BRIEN: Very shortly we should be seeing a picture from the inside the cockpit, a camera that is put in the pilot's position. You heard a little while ago . . .

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Altitude 22,000 feet.

MILES O'BRIEN: Twenty-two thousand feet. The pilot, Jim "Vegas" Kelly, had his opportunity to get a little stick time on the shuttle. The commander, of course, lands the shuttle. This will be Eileen Collins . . .

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Discovery, Houston, (INAUDIBLE) 90.

MILES O'BRIEN: Really, when you think about it . . .

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Discovery, (INAUDIBLE) 90.

MILES O'BRIEN: On at the 90.

Cady, tell people what that means.

COLEMAN: That means that they're on energy. They're on altitude. They're exactly where they want to be. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just over 10 miles to touchdown for Discovery.

COLEMAN: Seventeen thousand feet.

MILES O'BRIEN: Now it's worth pointing out that, in spite of all the practice, this is her second for real landing. Eileen Collins at the runway in sight. Aiming for about 345 miles an hour. She gets in there on final approach. There you see that picture from on board. Now, this is going to take a little bit of work to try to get you to see it. But that . . .

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The live view and the forward windows. Looking down at Edwards Air Force Base.

MILES O'BRIEN: As they get closer to the runway, that will become a little more obvious to you. But that was just a lot of information on their heads up display, which gives them information about the air speed and the altitude so they don't have to keep glancing down at the instruments as they come down.

COLEMAN: It's actually on an 18 degree glide slope right now and then right at about 1,700 feet she'll pull up in a pre-flare and level it out.

MILES O'BRIEN: Pre-flare is where you start bleeding off the last amount of speed and energy to get it to the right speed. You want that to happen just at the right moment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Discovery descending (INAUDIBLE) 3,000 feet, three miles to touchdown.

MILES O'BRIEN: You want to land at about 220 miles an hour. I don't know if you can see on the top of the orbiter there. You'll see it's like little speckles of heat, of light there. And it's hard for me to track that with the telestrator. That is the exhaust from the auxiliary power units which are run by hydrazine. They're actually let's listen for a second as they get closer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The landing gear is down and locked.

MILES O'BRIEN: Fourteen seconds away now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Main gear touchdown. Drag chute deployed. Nose gear touchdown. And Discovery is home.

MILES O'BRIEN: Not bad.

Cady Coleman, you've had the opportunity to fly with Eileen Collins. Looks like she did what she does formally, huh?

COLEMAN: You know my favorite story to tell is, I was on the flight deck there sitting as ms-1 and there we were coming in, getting closer and closer to the runway, and all of a sudden Eileen said derotate, which means we're going to put the nose down. Usually we make sure we land on the main gear first, and I had not felt that sensation. I mean it was a beautiful landing, just like the one we saw today.

MILES O'BRIEN: Kathy Sullivan, all right, are you breathing a sigh of relief now?

SULLIVAN: I'm liking this a whole lot better now. It just as expected, a fabulous landing. Eileen is a superb pilot. The shuttle is a pretty fragile airplane when it comes to how much of a smack you can give it on the runway and it's a real indication of shuttle pilot's skill as these folks grease it on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your wheel stop Discovery and congratulations on a truly spectacular test flight. Stevie Ray, Soichi, Andy, Vegas, Charlie, Wendy, and Eileen, welcome home, friends.

MILES O'BRIEN: There you heard . . .

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) some great words to hear. We're happy to be back and we congratulate the whole team for a job well done. We're going to take flight deck three.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we'll meet you there.

MILES O'BRIEN: That was great. Congratulations on a job well done. Now let's get back on with the checklist. Eileen Collins is she is task oriented, you might say. She will savor the moment later when she gets her big enchilada with husband, Pat Youngs, and her two young children. But wheel stop is the call everybody's been waiting for.

John Glenn, that was a pretty sight, wasn't it?

GLENN: That was indeed, Miles. And, you know, I still find a lot of people, when I'm talking to them, are surprised that when they find out that this thing is nothing but a glider. They see those engines on there and think that we could go around again if there was something wrong, like you do with an airliner for something wrong at an airport. This thing is a glider and once you start down, you're going to land someplace. And that's the it has to be very exact coming in. That's exactly what Eileen did.

MILES O'BRIEN: There you see I was pointing out at a hard time those auxiliary power units. Take a look at that thing. It looks like a chugging steam engine there. And right up in there is the exhaust. And it's heat, of course, because this is the infrared camera, from those hydrazine auxiliary power units, which provide the electricity, which keep Discovery running and those control surfaces, flaps, if you will, moving. There are three of them because they've got to have lots of everything to have redundancy on this. And they it's interesting because I know they've looked over the years at replacing them. It's kind of an interesting way to make electricity. It's kind of a toxic way to make electricity using the hydrazine.

COLEMAN: Well, we mostly use those APs for hydraulics, for actually controlling the moving surfaces that need to move as we come into the atmosphere more and more. And those APUs, auxiliary power units, have actually got a lot of new parts to them that actually make them run more efficiently and also so that we understand, you know, we've understand some of the past failures and make sure that they're going to run more reliably.

MILES O'BRIEN: Here's what happens now. About 75 people or so in a convoy approach the shuttle and it's I think Kathy mentioned it earlier, the peak heating for the skin, the aluminum skin, about 350 degrees in some spots, occurs about half hour after landing. So, in other words, that heat shield has done its job but eventually some heat makes its way to the aluminum skin. And so one of the key jobs that they perform is to keep that cooling process going. They attach some hoses near the back end of the orbiter which aids in that process, keeps the orbiter from overheating and, for that matter, the folks inside. And then they go through this process, that checklist, which Eileen went right back to, to get themselves unbuckled and out.

Kathy Sullivan, are you just you want to get out pretty quickly at this point, right, and get on ground and get back to see your loved ones, right?

SULLIVAN: Well, yes and no. This is your tension does slowly and progressively shift towards absorbing that your home. You know, the energy that you just dissipated during reentry is now in the skin and in the brakes of the vehicle. And, Miles, another important set of things the convoy folks are doing is paying attention to the brakes and tires and to where you really have hydrazine on the orbiter is where all the orbital maneuvering system and other engines are. So before anybody wants to come to close or the crew wants to get out, the convoy's got a critical job of making sure that everything is thermally safe, not going to explode, and none of the propellants are leaking.

The crew is probably unstrapping on the mid deck now, slowly getting themselves ready to feel gravity again and, of course, Eileen and the folks on the flight deck are tiding things up for the convoy so that the rest of those folks can safely approach.

MILES O'BRIEN: 8:11:22, the official touchdown point for the space shuttle Discovery.

Cady, it's worth pointing out, I've heard that actually tires the possibility of a tire exploding is a real concern, for example. The thruster rockets on the outside, which work with this toxic brew of hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide, which are very toxic things, you want to as Kathy points out, you want to render the vehicle safe, I think is the term.

COLEMAN: Right. And we're not expecting any of those things to be leaking out or still being used. And at the same time, they are present on the vehicle. We need to make sure that we've actually got sort of sniffers. They're not people but they're actually mechanical devices that can access whether the atmosphere is safe or not. And there's also large fans. They're actually 14 foot blades. They can I think they can make the air go about 45 miles an hour if they need to that can just, you know, blow all the fumes, any fumes that are present, away from the orbiter. MILES O'BRIEN: Yes, and particularly on a day like today where the wind was light and variable there, you want to create a little air flow over it so in case there are any of these toxic fumes, that that is taken care of. So that's all part of the effort we're going to see right now. It takes a little while before the crew actually will appear, but the customary thing to do is to inspect the vehicle. Interestingly, they've been inspecting the vehicle since really day one in this case. So it's a little different this time.

John Glenn, do you remember what it was like to get out after all of this and sort of, you know, in a proverbial sense, kick the tires?

JOHN GLENN, FORMER ASTRONAUT: Yes. And, you know, it's a good thing to get out, but you begin to feel heavy for the first time in a number of days and that's a very different feeling. Of course, you're walking around sort of lead foot. And I remember seeing pictures of me walking around looking like the little old man I was, I guess. Sort of spread legged to keep my base.

But it was a great feeling to be back again and to be under there and look up at the tiles. And I'm sure Steve Robinson is going to want to Stevie's going to want to get up front there and look at those things where he pulled those gap fillers out and see how they fared up there. So that will be interesting for him to see it too.

MILES O'BRIEN: I bet so. And, of course, you flew with Steve Robinson. You know what it's like to fly with him and what his feelings would be right now. I'm sure he's rather euphoric.

GLENN: I'm sure he is. Steve's a great friend and we've kept in touch ever since then. And the next I think the next flight commander, of course, is Steve Lindsay, who was also on our flight. And Scott Parazynski, who you've had on several times too. Scott was on that same flight. So we all remain very good friends.

MILES O'BRIEN: It's the all-star Glenn team. They're still around and doing their job as well.

Kathy Sullivan, what's it like getting out of that orbiter and walking around, looking at it. Do you recall? For example, in your case, of course, you didn't have the in-flight inspection that we had on this mission. Do you recall looking up and going, wow, look at all those dings in those tiles?

SULLIVAN: It's a pretty amazing sight. You know, you last saw the outside of the vehicle when you were on the launch pad and it was filled with super cold propellants and just seething as if it really was straining at the reigns and wanted to leap off the planet. And now you're back on the ground and it's looking a lot more like an airplane. We did have a pretty good ding in the forward port wing edge on one of my flights, about the sort of area of my fist, as if I had punched in the tiles. But happily, not a fist's worth deep. But notable enough that we all sort of rolled our eyes at each other and were grateful it wasn't any larger than that.

MILES O'BRIEN: Boy, I bet so. That's a moment where you think, phew, boy, could have been a close call.

Cady.

COLEMAN: You know it's actually interesting data. I guarantee you there's going to be folks that are going to be photographing, before they move the shuttle, every inch of the tiles and the wing leading edges. Some of the work that we've been doing in the past two years is trying to understand, well what hits have we taken in the past from foam on the tank or other things?

And just because we see what it looks like on landing, we don't actually know what that spot, like the one that Kathy just described, you know, sort of fist-sized, what did it look like when it was up in space? Was it smaller? In other words, how can we take the inspection information that we get up in space and use that to understand what's going to happen on the way to the ground.

MILES O'BRIEN: This is the first time anyone can categorically say this is damage caused by reentry.

COLEMAN: Exactly. It's really, really valuable information. I mean we have you know, we have spots, in fact, on one of my missions, you know, quite a big spot, that we noticed was damaged by, I think, ice on the tank. And we'd like to be able to say, well we can fly home on that. But what did it look like when it was up in space? We've got that information. We have a lot of information for folks to work on and I think it's going to be we're just much better off than we ever have been.

MILES O'BRIEN: All right. Let's talk about the future here for just a moment, and I'll start with Kathy.

The term that's been used by the media, myself included, is grounding. All my NASA friends say don't use that term, that's not appropriate. This is an experimental vehicle. Every experimental vehicle is tech grounded the moment you see wheel stop like this. But nevertheless, the term is apt.

The shuttle fleet is not going to fly until a lot of things are squared away, in particular that falling foam issue off that external fuel tank which we saw a couple of minutes after the launch of Discovery. We're so glad to report it didn't cause any problem to this flight. It fell harmlessly. But, obviously, it's of great concern because that was the root cause of Columbia.

Kathy, what's your best sense of it. Do you think that this reflects poorly on the process of repairing that tank in the first place? And how big a job does NASA have ahead, do you think?

SULLIVAN: Well, you know, I don't think it reflects poorly on the work done in the last two-and-a-half years. There's hundreds, if not thousands, of specific individual decisions made on an engineering basis through all of that rework and scrutinized by a number of outside groups. I'm sure their team's already digging into the pal ramp, as its called, carefully and looking back at whether there was any, in retrospect, better judgment or better indication or evidence missed when they assessed it the first time around in terms of rework or redesign. And it will get a very thorough going over this time.

I'm struck by the push back you're getting from your NASA colleagues, Miles, and the fact that you just want to say, well, but it's an apt term anyhow. Because remember, part of what NASA's been working so hard on since Columbia is to make sure that everyone technically involved with the orbiter keeps their head in the right place. Keeps their head firmly around the fact that it's an experimental vehicle. And you have to prove the next flight is safe. You don't just get to go flying routinely like an airliner does.

So you're hearing them reflect that to you in their language. And I think we might all want to stand up a little bit and support their effort because the outside climate that they live is in is part of how their culture gets shaped as well. So I applaud them for taking you to task on that and keeping their head straight on the status of the vehicle.

MILES O'BRIEN: All right. Point well taken. I hadn't thought about it that way, but you're right, it reflects a true change in their attitudes and their so-called culture post-Columbia. That is a good reflection.

Senator Glenn, looking down the road a little bit, regardless of what happens with the and we'll use it we'll use the NASA term, "suspension of flights," by 2010 it's pretty much set in stone the shuttle fleet will be retired. First of all, do you think that's a good approach right now to set a date like that? Do you think that's appropriate?

GLENN: Well, I know that's the date that's been set, Miles. And I would rather see a date set by which we have the station completed, whatever that takes. If that's 2012 or 2009, why, let's do it that way on what we're accomplishing on building out the space station.

It's only about two-thirds complete now. We've spent a lot money on it. Somewhere around $55 billion or $60 billion in U.S. money, and another $12 billion or $15 billion with our allies that are other 15 nations involved with us on the station. And that was built to do basic fundamental research. And its research is of value to people right here on earth. So I want to see that station completed, if we possibly can, and not just set an arbitrary date of 2010 that's been set. But I'd rather do it on when the station is completed so we get on with what it was built to do to begin with.

I know also that some of the research on that station that I think will be of benefit to people here on earth has been cut back because of expenses. And to me, the cutting back on that's a little bit like saying, I'm going to buy an 18 wheeler truck but I don't have money enough to put gas in the tank to drive it. This is not I would like to see us spend that extra $250 million a year or so, which is peanuts compared to the overall program, to do the basic research in addition to the research that they plan for to do the research going on to the moon and to Mars eventually.

So just one other little observation here of the shuttle, the orbiter sitting on the runway there. You can see your two points of highest temperature are still on the brakes and the wheels there where they were just rolled out. That shows that the concerns about sometime blowing a tire there and maybe hurting somebody if they were too close are very valid concerns. But it's interesting to look at your picture there.

But, anyway, I just think I want to see us set the date by accomplishing what we're doing, instead of just setting an arbitrary date for cutting the missions back even though they were even though those missions are very expensive and that's the reason why you have to cut them back. But let's accomplish the mission that we've built this thing up for over the last couple of decades.

MILES O'BRIEN: Good point, Senator Glenn. Thanks for pointing that out.

Those are high pressure tires filled with nitrogen and they being that hot is something you want to stay away from.

Let's pick up on that final point on the space station.

Cady, you'd love to go there.

COLEMAN: And work.

MILES O'BRIEN: And work there. And as a chemist, you can see lots of reasons for doing it. The big question, though, is, with the push toward the moon and Mars, with an aging shuttle fleet, is it appropriate, is it cost effective to try to do it all?

COLEMAN: Well, I think 18 months ago, after Columbia, we looked, you know, these are the things on our plate, what should we do? And it was decided to stop using the shuttle in a systemic way that made sense. If we stop now, we don't have the capability to finish the station. To me, that doesn't make sense. We've got a lot of work to do on that station we need to do before we can proceed onward. And also the science that I love, that Senator Glenn mentioned as well.

And so we're in the I think we're doing it the way that makes sense. We're not ready yet for that new vehicle. We are working on it but we actually need to make sure that we keep a work force that knows how to build and operate that new vehicle. And I think there would be too much time in between right now if we just stopped shuttle and said, let's do the new one. We'd lose some expertise. It's not the right time.

MILES O'BRIEN: Kathy Sullivan, would you agree with that? Is it a bad idea to set a date, 2010, close the shuttle fleet down, regardless of where the station is?

SULLIVAN: I think it's I'd do it a little differently. I would tend to side a bit more with the senator. The two dates that I think are important to set are completion and completion of some return on the investment of the station. And secondly, availability of a replacement vehicle for the United States to take both people and cargo into and out of orbit. I'm equally concerned that we just draw a line in the sand and say we put shuttles in the hangar as of 2010 and perhaps find ourselves with an extended hiatus in the United States' ability as a human space faring nation.

I feel that for, in part, the expertise and capability points that Cady mentioned, but also because I think, you know, nations are just joining the effort that we've pioneered with the Soviets 40, 50 years ago. It's not a time for our country to be sitting on the bench in terms of either the innovation or engineering that's yet ahead of us, or the scientific research. But maybe most of all, it's not time to be sitting on the bench with respect to work force development in our country.

MILES O'BRIEN: Well, and that is an important point.

Senator Glenn, one of the key issues, when you think about a transition from vehicle to vehicle, is any sort of gap that might occur. And perhaps losing momentum in space, losing good people who know how to do it. Is that a concern of yours?

GLENN: Well, it is very much a concern. Right now the gap is planned right now for about four years until we get the CEV, the crew exploration vehicle, developed to the point where it could go up and do the supply missions and back and forth. And in that four-year period, if we really retire the shuttle, the orbiter in 2010, it means that we're going to be completely dependent then on the Russians to do the supply and the personnel transport back and forth.

I don't like to see us be that dependent. We got bit once before when they had their node 1, as it was called, that held us up for a while. Now they've been very good and I'm not criticizing them because they have filled in with their supply vehicles and that's good. But I don't like being completely dependent on them for that four-year period.

We've spent a lot of money on this thing getting up to where we can do basic research with it. We've sold this to the Congress and the people of this country in years past. I know it because I floor managed some of those bills when we were talking about the station when I was in the Senate. And we've sold this thing on the idea it's going to be a research vehicle to benefit the people right here on earth, and I want to see us make it that, in addition to doing the research necessary to carry out the present so-called vision, the moon and Mars. I think there's a lot to be done on that station that once we get the crew up see, there are only two people up there now. It was designed for a crew of six, possibly seven, but crew of six all the time. And you need one or two people just to keep servicing the systems on the station itself, and the others can be doing research.

Right now, they're doing very little research up there, comparatively, to what the thing was built to do.

So I want to see us get on with that, and I want to see us be able to supply it. If that means extending the shuttles out a little bit, it's a little bit of extra expense, but it's well worth it with the investment we already have in that vehicle.

MILES O'BRIEN: All right, Senator Glenn, I have a person sitting beside me who probably would say "Amen" to most of that. Stephanie Stilson is Discovery's vehicle manager, which is kind of like being Discovery's mama. And are you a proud mama this morning?

STEPHANIE STILSON, DISCOVERY VEHICLE MANAGER: Oh, gosh. So proud. The team has worked four years to get to this point. And obviously, we were very happy when we launched, the mission went very well. But to land, that's what we needed to do. Show the world we could land safely and bring Discovery home.

O'BRIEN: Of course, landing day is like the first day of work for you, right?

STILSON: Absolutely.

O'BRIEN: Tell us about what lies ahead. You obviously sent a team out there to get the first stages of preparation. You've got to lash the Discovery onto a 747 and bring it all back. A lot of work that's added every time you go to Edwards.

STILSON: Absolutely. The team, like you said, is out there. Our A-team is out there now taking care of everything that has to happen immediately. Then, a group goes out tomorrow.

I'll be part of that team tomorrow, called the B-team, and we'll fly out and continue the round-the-clock processing to safe (ph) the vehicle, get it on that SCA, the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, and ferry it back here to Kennedy Space Center. And that's when it'll really be home. So our job is not done. We've got a work to finally say Discovery is home.

O'BRIEN: And typically, that's at least a week. And it's very weather dependent. The 747 that carries the shuttle flies only at about 10,000 feet. It has to fly -- stay away from clouds. It could take a long time just to get it back here.

STILSON: Absolutely. We plan about seven days of work to get ready for the ferry flight and we plan about two days for the ferry flight. But you're right. If there's weather along the way, we'll have to stop. There's places across the country where we can stop, sit tight, wait for the weather to clear up, and then move ahead.

O'BRIEN: All right. So clarify this in my mind. If, for some reason, there is a quick fix to that fuel tank issue and Atlantis is looking like it could go in the third week in September, when that window opens up, could you have Discovery ready to fly a rescue mission in time? It's pretty tight, isn't it?

STILSON: It is tight. Obviously, a lot of work that has to happen in a shorter period of time. But right now, we're still optimistic we could do that. Now we'll have to wait and see exactly when we get back to the Kennedy Space Center and start the amount of work that's going to happen there.

O'BRIEN: Every time I see this, by the way, the 747 carrying an orbiter on top, I marvel at it. It's an amazing sight, indeed. And it costs more money, costs more time. In a perfect world, you'd wish Discovery was right behind us here on this runway, I guess. STILSON: Yes. Just so we could have seen it live, that would have been great. But seeing it on TV, having a nice safe touchdown, I'm sure you heard the cheer here. Everybody here was just as happy. But yes, we would have liked to have it right here on our runway.

O'BRIEN: Yes, it is a big cheer. And I know the people, here, well. And I know how important it is to be flying. And I know this 2 1/2 year period has been very difficult for everybody. Can you give us -- encapsulate the whole emotional ride?

STILSON: Well really, for Discovery's team, we started 4 years ago, because we were in a maintenance period when the accident happened. So we were already on course to do a lot of work, to upgrade the vehicle, put all these modifications on.

Then we had the accident, we had additional modifications, like the boom, the wing-leading edge sensors. So yes, delays along the way can be discouraging for a team. So I know everybody out there right now is just thrilled. Across the country. Because there's thousands of people that have been involved with what we're doing. And it's just been overwhelming for everybody, I think, at this point.

O'BRIEN: Being back in flight has a little asterisk attached to it because of the issues with the external fuel tank. How does that, in any way, affect the team, their focus, their morale?

STILSON: It was a little disheartening when we first found out that we had an issue with the foam, because we didn't expect it. And now we know we have more work to do. But the team bounced back very quickly, and especially the way the orbiter handled itself in orbit. Phenomenal.

Very minor damage that we saw on underside of the vehicle. The gap fillers, of course, the EVA, to do that work, to take care of those, went very smoothly. So I think the team was able to quickly get back on their feet and say, "OK, we know we've got a problem with foam. We're going to go fix that." But the orbiter has been outstanding.

O'BRIEN: You know, the interesting thing, a lot of things of what you do on landing day, in past landings, is check for damage. You already know, don't you?

STILSON: That's right. Unless there's something that happened between the last time we took our video imaging, our scanning, and when we have touched down. And we'll have folks out on the runway now that'll be doing that and looking and taking data as to what they're seeing differently.

O'BRIEN: And Cady Coleman was saying that, in and of itself, would be very interesting, because for the first time, you'll be able to isolate what damage might be caused by reentry, something that you've never been able to decipher before.

STILSON: Absolutely. That's what I'm, personally, looking forward to finding out about. Because you're right, that's a first time thing for us, to find out what the differences are in damage that occurred prior to landing and then during the reentry phase.

O'BRIEN: All right. Taking us back to that larger debate that you kind of stepped in on with Senator Glenn and Kathy Sullivan. Underpinning that whole debate is the sense that the shuttle fleet is aging and is past its prime, and in many respects, the technology is outmoded. It's important, I think, for people to understand, while it is an aging fleet, it has been gently used, to say the least.

And when you look at the hardware and you look at -- while it is vintage 1970s in some cases, and some cases upgraded, it looks like a new vehicle. You treat it with kid gloves.

STILSON: Absolutely. And Discovery has had close to 300 modifications just on this flow (ph). So we're constantly making improvements and as we come up with new technologies, ways to make it safer, to make it more useful. So we're making those changes. So in my mind, that's what's allowing us to continue to fly safely and do the job that we set out for ourselves, and that's to station put together and move on to the next vehicle.

O'BRIEN: All right, well I don't want to you to get off the NASA page too much, because I know you want. But how long do you think you could fly Discovery and the other orbiters safely?

STILSON: I could positively say we could fly as long as we're asked to, because we would never fly unsafely. So if we were asked to go 2010, 2020, we'll keep doing that as long as we know we've got the technology and the changes to the vehicle to continue to make it safe.

So right now, to me, the sky's the limit. If administrator decides we're going to stop in 2010. OK, my job is to ensure we get there and we get there safely. If we can't, then we raise up our hands and say we can't do that.

O'BRIEN: And what do people here think about that next generation of vehicles? There's a lot of uncertainty that goes along with that, but there must be, also, some excitement.

STILSON: There is excitement. And of course, any time you have change there's that unknown, a little bit of fear. Will I have a job? Will there be something for me to do? So that's out here. But we're doing a good job of communicating what we're looking to do, and how Kennedy Space Center is launch processing. So whatever the vehicle is, we expect that we'll launch it from here. So that keep everybody pretty happy.

O'BRIEN: But going back to what Senator Glenn was talking about, you know, already, on the schedule, is sort of a defined four-year gap. Could you keep that workforce together, all those skilled people who do all those important things to make this orbiter fly?

STILSON: I hope so. I hope that we can continue to have active, productive work for them. And those are plans that we're trying to lay out now.

O'BRIEN: Kathy Sullivan, these are important points, aren't they all? That the work force is nothing to trifle with. And if you start having a down period, you lose good people.

KATHRYN SULLIVAN, FORMER ASTRONAUT: That's exactly right, Miles. And if you look across at the nation, at the science and engineering workforce of the country as a whole, there are real issues associated with the United States workforce.

There've been major reports from countless groups in the last five or ten years, we're not generating the same number of folks in degrees as we have leaving the work force. We're coming up to crunch point in terms of a lot of retirement-age folks coming in.

I think we could set ourselves up for a really adverse set of colliding waves, here, and find ourselves falling behind the technology and innovation curve in a way that we probably would have never intended to.

O'BRIEN: You know, it's interesting, Senator Glenn. I think a lot of people, perhaps, do take for granted what the space program meant in the Apollo era, the moon-race era, the Mercury era, what that meant for technology and to the extent that it inspired a generation of people to seek out careers in engineering and in science. It's a difficult thing to quantify, isn't it? But I think it was very important.

GLENN: I think it was very important. And you know, back in those days of the Cold War, we started this whole program on math and science in the schools and the big education program. And we need that now. We're being challenged more competitively in this time of globalization than ever before. So we need that kind of inspiration now.

Let me also comment, this idea that we're an aging spacecraft. Well, it is, and it's an old, but I would submit that the problems we've had don't have much to do with aging. We've had foam falling off. That didn't have anything to do with aging.

We had the Challenger accident, of course, o-rings, that didn't have anything to do with aging. The Columbia, of course, was something that didn't have anything to do with aging. It had, once again, with an impact that carved a big hole in the wing back there and let the heat in.

So I don't think this idea that it's an -- I don't believe that this is an out of date spacecraft yet. It can last a long time and help us get back some beneficial return out of all this investment we've made in the space station. So I think, you know, barring any bending the landing gear, or something like that on one of these, which would leave us rather severely strained to carry on the missions here with only three orbiters left.

But as far as aging goes, just to retire it because it's old, I don't think that is right. It's been kept up to date all through the years. And it can still perform its missions very well, as we just saw.

O'BRIEN: Yes, I don't know about you, Senator, but the older I get, the more sensitive I get to that argument itself. I think you're right. I think we are as old or young as we feel. And that's a good point. But the one issue which comes to mind here, time and again, is whether there are fundamental design issues that make not just -- I'm not talking about the orbiter, I'm talking about the whole combination, the shuttle stack, has some inherent unsafe components to is.

The fact that it's stacked, you know, horizontally here, in such a way that the foam has the opportunity to fall off and hit what is a sensitive thing with the people in it. If it was up on top, you wouldn't worry about that kind of thing. Or the fact that it has solid rocket boosters that burn for two minutes and can't be shut down.

And in that two-minute period, there's no crew escape system. And there is that issue. When you flew in Mercury, you had an escape tower. If something bad happened on the launch pad, you could have pulled that escape tower lever, and off you would have gone, safely separated from the rocket.

So what we're talking about here, you're right. I think it gets conflated with the aging issue, but the issue really is, maybe this was a horse designed by committee. And we're seeing fully now, fully understanding the effects only recently. Is that possible?

GLENN: Yes. With 20-20 hindsight, of course we would do things differently, and there have been a lot of engineering developments through the years and new techniques and things that you design a new spacecraft, you do it a bit differently, and it would be safer. But this is the one we have. And the station is what we have right now, a huge investment in this.

And to cut the whole program down and say that we can't use this beyond just an automatic time period, I don't think, is right. I think we should be looking at the mission to be performed to get the maximum benefit out of it for every single American. In fact, people all over the world that are involved with us on this, get the most value out of this thing that we have. And to me, that means setting a little different time schedule.

O'BRIEN: You know, Stephanie Stilson, a point that is not overlooked here, in your world, is that the flaws have never been the orbiter. It's the combination, the stack, the shuttle stack, which together, has created problems because the way it all is integrated.

That's not something you want to boast over, because this is something that is, after all, a team effort, and you feel -- the team rises and falls together. But nevertheless, the orbiter is an amazing vehicle on its own.

STILSON: Absolutely. And the orbit team would be glad that you said that, because that would make them feel good. It's true. We're all working together. And although we that work on the orbiter take great pride in that, you can't launch an orbiter without a tank, without boosters. So no individual component can go without the other three. So we've got to work together and, you know, we hope to continue to make it safer and safer each time we fly.

O'BRIEN: All right. If you're just tuning in, we're seeing replays that NASA is feeding out, right now, from various other angles. Edwards Air Force Base is not equipped with the live camera capability that we have here at Kennedy Space Center. So gradually, they'll feedback whatever angles they have for us and give us a sense.

Obviously, very dark out there in California. It's kind of hard to make out what's going on. But what you saw there was Eileen Collins doing what she does best. The term, Kathy Sullivan, is "greased it." She kissed the runway. And if it was like Cady Coleman's landing, the folks on the flight deck and the mid-deck didn't even know they were on the ground.

SULLIVAN: It happens. The orbiter's structure kind of requires that the commander put it on very smoothly and gently, and the kind of pilots that make up the astronaut cadre of NASA are the kind of folks that can do it. We're talking about landing onto the ground with a vertical rate that is tenths of a foot per second. So it's very, very gentle, smooth landing. And Eileen's a pro at it.

O'BRIEN: Especially when you consider, only moments before, they were diving toward the earth 350 miles an hour, 20 times steeper than an airliner landing. And then they just gently touch down. And that -- let's reiterate for folks. That's a one-shot deal. There's no engines there to change that in any way. There's no go-rounds.

SULLIVAN: That's exactly right. Once you fire the de-orbit burn engines, which you do halfway around the earth from the landing site, from that moment on, physics tells you every piece of hardware that you're riding in is going to hit the surface of the earth about halfway round the planet. And hopefully, it will hit gracefully, as an airplane with the wheels down on a runway. But it's going to hit the surface of the earth. There's no two ways about it.

O'BRIEN: There are certain laws of physics which cannot be changed. And one of the laws of space flight, right now, is Stephanie Stilson has a lot of work to do ahead. So are we wasting your time? Do you need to be getting to work?

STILSON: Well, actually, I'm going to be flying out tomorrow morning. So my afternoon today is going to be little slow, but tomorrow morning will pick up, first thing.

O'BRIEN: Off to the races you go. So you'll be out there and you will shepherd Discovery back. And with any luck, who knows? Maybe that September launch date could happen. But a lot of things have to go into -- your job is to preserve that option, I guess.

STILSON: That's right. Absolutely. We want to get Discovery here back as soon as we can, so we can get into our normal mode of processing. Therefore making it easy for us to then support Atlantis if we need to.

O'BRIEN: All right. Stephanie Stilson, Kathy Sullivan, Senator John Glenn, we're going to take a break. Discovery is home safe and sound. Just the kind of conclusion you'd like to see on a return to flight. The return to earth was -- well, the term NASA uses is "nominal." Here, we'll say, "Gee, whiz. It was great." Back with more in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: This was the scene 35 minutes ago in the darkness over Edwards Air Force Base, the space shuttle Discovery touching down. Perfect touchdown. Eileen Collins at the command, at the controls, her second shuttle landing. And the 112th shuttle landing in all, the 31st for Discovery, the 50th at Edwards Air Force Base, and the first since Columbia.

NASA breathing a sigh of relief today. What lies ahead for the shuttle program, some questions, and also some opportunities. We're talking about all that this morning on this American MORNING -- Soledad?

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Miles, beautiful job, beautiful landing, wasn't it? Absolutely picture perfect and really fun to watch from here too.

M. O'BRIEN: It was fun, wasn't it?

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, it was great. It was really -- and you know what? I think all of us let out a big old sigh of relief. I know you were talking to your guests about that, some not even wanting to weigh in until it was wheels stopped, not even wheels down. But it was perfect and it was great to watch. And still much work to do.

There is other news, though, other stories making news this morning. We want to get to that this morning as well.

U.S. and Iraqi troops have discovered new and deadlier technology in weapons they say are being smuggled from across the border from Iran into Iraq. Let's get right to Barbara Starr, she's live at the Pentagon for us this morning.

Barbara, good morning to you. What are they saying about the sophistication of these weapons?

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This, Soledad, is a potential very disturbing development, officials say. It was within the last two weeks, apparently, that they confiscated a truckload of weapons coming across a border crossing in southern Iraq, coming in from Iran.

And when they opened up those crates carrying those weapons, what they found was of great concern to U.S. military intelligence. Officials are confirming to CNN they found what they are now calling manufactured explosive devices, or bombs. Something much more sophisticated than the type of improvised explosives they have seen the insurgency use in Iran.

And, you know, with that recent large bombing in Haditha that left that huge crater, there was already plenty of concern. When you look at the damage that these type of improvised explosives have caused, that was already of great concern. Now, what they tell us they are seeing is manufactured bombs. These would be bombs that would be more lethal, more precise.

They actually, now, include those so-called shaped charges, which cause much more lethality and much more damage. Officials also say there is something even more concerning to them. They say that when they looked at this technology they confiscated coming across the Iranian border, they believe it is possible that these weapons were manufactured by elements of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

They're not positive, of course, but they're looking at the technology. They're looking at the materials. And they believe they can possibly trace it back to those elements inside Iran. Not saying that it's part of the central government in Iran, but possibly at the behest of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: If that is the case, that's incredibly scary. Barbara, I want to ask you, then, in light of all of that, what's now being said about a possible draw-down in the troops in Iraq?

STARR: This is really the issue on the table right now. General John Abizaid, the head of the U.S. Central Command, indeed has briefed to the highest levels here in the Pentagon the military options for possibly drawing down troops by 20,000 or 30,000 early next year if the elections go well, if the political process continues, if the violence is down.

So all of that is a big if, but also, they are telling us, the level of troops is likely to go up slightly for those December elections, Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: One would imagine. All right, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for us. Barbara, thank you very much.

There are other stories, as well, we want to get caught up on. Let's get right to the headlines with Carol Costello this morning. Good morning.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Soledad. Good morning to all of you.

Now in the news, we begin in Iraq, where a suicide bomber in Baghdad targeted a police patrol. At least three people were killed, dozens more wounded, and there is word that one American soldier was among the victims. That attack taking place just hours after a string of drive-by shootings. At least ten Iraqi police officers killed in the shooting, six others wounded.

In the Middle East, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is urging the Palestinians to make sure Israel's withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the West Bank is peaceful. Speaking earlier today, Abbas warned Palestinians against trying to seize Israeli property and called for limits on excessive celebration. Israel's pullout is set to begin next week.

Accused sniper Charles McCoy Jr. is expected to plead guilty, today, to a series of highway shootings in Ohio, one of which killed a woman. His lawyers say McCoy will drop an insanity defense as part of a plea deal. He's expected to face time at a low-level security prison or a medical institution. McCoy's first trial ended in a hung jury.

It's getting harder for middle-income families to buy a home. The national median home price is, get this, $225,000. That's up 20 percent from 18 months ago. That's according to the Center for Housing Policy. The most expensive housing markets include San Francisco, New York, and Boston.

And singer Marc Cohn, known for his 1991 hit "Walking in Memphis," is recovering after being shot in the head during an attempted carjacking. The singer was driving home from a performance in Denver when a man fired into his van.

Cohn has since been released from the hospital. He is expected to return to New York soon to be with his wife, ABC News anchor Elizabeth Vargas. In fact, I think she went out to see him, and then they're going to come back. The suspect, by the way, Soledad, is in police custody.

S. O'BRIEN: They quoted someone at the hospital saying they can't believe he survived.

COSTELLO: He's lucky because it was deflected somehow. But it hit him in the temple, the bullet.

S. O'BRIEN: They've got to take it out of his head.

COSTELLO: He's going to be OK, though.

S. O'BRIEN: Gosh, that's terrible news for Elizabeth and her family. Of course, our thoughts go out to all of them today.

Let's go out to Miles O'Brien, where he's got terrific news to report in California because, of course, the space shuttle Discovery landed perfectly, and we are happy to be able to say that.

Good morning, Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: We are happy to say that. Yes, it was quite a sight. That infrared camera kind of giving a negative version of the shuttle as it came in, but there's nothing negative about the results. It's all positive, all the way, here, as NASA considers a successful shuttle mission and what lies ahead. There's some questions there. We'll talk to somebody about that in just a moment. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

M. O'BRIEN: Welcome back. It's a beautiful day here at the Kennedy Space Center. Unfortunately, no space shuttle Discovery here. Fortunately, safe and sound in California's high desert, Edwards Air Force Base. Commander Eileen Collins and her crew still going through the post-wheel-stop checklist. NASA was hoping for that post-wheel- stop checklist in the worst way. We've been talking all morning long about the space shuttle, the flight, specifically, the future of space flight. Among our guests has been Senator John Glenn, of course, the first American to orbit the earth, and a man who flew in October of '98 on that very same orbiter, Discovery. Senator Glenn, I have a surprise guest here, with me, Scott Parazynski, your crewmate. You guys can do the secret Discovery handshake now, electronically or something.

SCOTT PARAZYNSKI, NASA ASTRONAUT: How are you, John?

GLENN: Good to hear you, Scott. Great.

PARAZYNSKI: Wish we were on board today. It would have been a beautiful landing.

GLENN: I do too. Well, I'm available.

PARAZYNSKI: Me too.

M. O'BRIEN: They're tan, they're rested, they're ready. All right. Well Senator Glenn, I wanted to thank you for being a part of our coverage this morning. It was great, we appreciate your insights, always. And thanks for talking to us about what it's like to fly on the shuttle and other spacecraft and about the future of the program. We'll see you soon, we hope.

GLENN: Thank you, Miles. Glad to turn you over to good hands, there, with Scott.

M. O'BRIEN: I'd say that's a good handoff. The Discovery handoff.

PARAZYNSKI: The baton is passed.

M. O'BRIEN: The baton is passed to a new generation. Scott Parazynski, let's talk about what lies ahead for the shuttle, not specifically out there at Edwards -- as a matter of fact, if we take that picture, right now, coming from NASA, if we could, for just a moment. Getting a little bit of sunlight, there, and you can get a sense of what's going on there. Left-hand part of the vehicle, that's the crew transport vehicle. What's the acronym for it?

PARAZYNSKI: The CTV, crew transport vehicle. That's where the crew will be in just about 15 or 20 minutes from now.

M. O'BRIEN: A lot of people looking at that would say, "Wait a minute, they landed at Dulles airport." It looks like it's basically the same thing that you would see there, that same kind of vehicle, there, that lifts up and down and takes the crew.

And they'll go in and they'll kind of freshen up, get out of their current garb and into fresh clothing and that kind of stuff, and that will take a while. And then they'll do the walk-around, which we'll carry for you and bring to you. They've got to get all that stuff set up. Let's talk about the shuttle, though. I know this afternoon there's going to be some discussions about what lies ahead on this fuel tank, foam issue. What do we know so far about it? The big concern would be if it affects all the tanks.

Because if it affects all the tanks, you've got an inherent delay. You've got to go back to redesign, build some new tanks, re- design what's here. There are three tanks here. They might have to go back to Louisiana. Lots of issues that go along with all of this. What do we know so far?

PARAZYNSKI: To be honest, I can't give you the newsbreak, unfortunately. I do know there's a meeting today with Mr. Bill Gerstenmaier, who's the head of the Tiger Team, and all the engineering experts will report to him their findings, their analyses. So I don't have any insights in terms of what they're going to present.

You are correct, though. If it were limited to just one or two tanks, maybe it could be a field repair at the Kennedy Space Center, be ready to launch, potentially, as early as late September. But we obviously have other opportunities later in the year.

M. O'BRIEN: And just a personal thought, just getting to this point. Wheel-stop was kind of the catch phrase here. We're aiming for wheel-stop. When you heard that word, what went through your mind?

PARAZYNSKI: It's very understated, wheel-stop. But of course, this is a huge triumph for NASAS, and for the country, and for the entire NASA team that's been working so hard over the last 2 1/2 years to recover from Columbia. This has been a wonderful day for all of us. And I think for the Columbia families as well, who we know very well. I'm sure they're watching with great pleasure that the legacy is being carried forward.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes, that's a good thing to remind us all of. Many of them were here, today, which had to be a painful thing, when you think about what they endured 2 1/2 years ago. We hope to hear from some of them a little later. Scott Parazynski, thank you very much for being with us. We appreciate it.

And as you look at pictures, there of Edwards Air Force Base, those guys in the white suits are doing what is called "safing the orbiter," making sure there's no toxic, harmful gases that are in existence out there. Staying clear of those hot tires under high pressure, just in case one of them were to burst.

Very shortly, the crew will begin its process of de-shuttling, and as soon as we see them, you'll see them live, here, on CNN. Stay with us for more AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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