Columbia and its six astronauts glided to a smooth touchdown at the Kennedy Space Center this morning to wrap up the final shuttle mission of the year – a 16-day flight highlighted by microgravity research and a pair of spacewalks to tests tools and techniques for the assembly of the International Space Station.
Commander Kevin Kregel and Pilot Steve Lindsey brought Columbia to a landing on Runway 3-3 at the Florida spaceport on the first opportunity at 6:20 a.m. Central time to wrap up a 6 and a half million mile mission which began with launch from KSC back on November 19.
It was the twelfth consecutive mission to end with a landing at the Kennedy Space Center and the 19th in the last 20th flights.
Kregel, Lindsey and their crewmates, Mission Specialists Kalpana Chawla, Winston Scott, Takao Doi and Payload Specialist Leonid Kadenyuk are due to return to Ellington Field in Houston this evening at about 7 p.m. for reunions with their families.
Columbia’s next mission is scheduled in early April, when seven astronauts will be launched on a 16-day life sciences research flight.
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