Columbia's crew began packing up experiments today and preparing to return to Earth tomorrow with a touchdown planned on the Kennedy Space Center's shuttle runway in Florida at 10:20 p.m. CDT.
Commander Eileen Collins and Pilot Jeff Ashby checked out the shuttle's cockpit instruments, displays and flight control systems this evening as part of the preparations for landing. They also test-fired Columbia's 38 small steering jets, finding everything in good shape and ready for the trip back to Earth.
Also today, Collins and Ashby were joined by the rest of the crew -- Mission Specialists Steve Hawley, Cady Coleman and Michel Tognini -- for a press conference, fielding questions from reporters in Houston, Florida and Massachusetts.
All activities are focused on a landing at KSC tomorrow, the shuttle's primary landing site, and flight controllers do not plan to consider any landing opportunities at Edwards Air Force Base, California, on Tuesday. Two opportunities are available for a landing in Florida tomorrow, beginning on Columbia's 79th orbit of Earth with an engine firing at 9:19 p.m. CDT leading to a touchdown at 10:20 p.m. If Columbia lands on the first opportunity, its course toward Florida will take it above much of south central Texas and southern Louisiana and the shuttle may be easily visible to observers on the ground in those areas.
The second opportunity is on the next orbit of Earth, starting with an engine firing at 10:54 p.m. leading to touchdown at 11:55 p.m. Columbia's course toward Florida on the second opportunity would take it above southern Texas and the Louisiana coast as it closes in on the Florida peninsula. The crew is scheduled to go to sleep at 6:31 a.m. CDT and awaken at 2:31 p.m. Tuesday.
Columbia is orbiting at an altitude of 182 statute miles with all of its systems in excellent condition. The next STS-93 status report will be issued Tuesday morning or as developments warrant.
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