With a healthy spacecraft around them, Columbia’s seven crewmembers began closing up shop in preparation for tomorrow’s return home to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, with landing scheduled for 5:47 a.m., weather permitting.
Early this morning, Commander Jim Halsell, Pilot Susan Still and Flight Engineer Mike Gernhardt put the orbiter’s systems through a thorough checkout to ensure their health and readiness to support entry and landing activities that begin shortly before 1 a.m. Thursday.
The flight control surfaces were tested using one of three hydraulic units, or Auxiliary Power Units and all 44 thruster jets were fired and found to be in good working order. Following communications checks through east and west coast ground tracking stations, the crew started stowing equipment that is no longer needed for on orbit operations.
Meanwhile, the payload crew that includes Payload Commander Janice Voss, Mission Specialist Don Thomas and Payload Specialists Greg Linteris and Roger Crouch squeezed in some final experiment work in the Spacelab module and shutdown those experiments that have been completed. Final payload deactivation procedures will wait until the crew transitions to the deorbit preparation timeline about one o’clock Thursday morning.
Weather is expected to be favorable for both landing opportunities, although the first still has a slight chance of some pre-dawn ground fog developing that may not dissipate in time of the decision to land. As the sun heats the atmosphere, the ground fog would dissipate rather quickly presenting more favorable weather for the second which would be at 7:22 a.m.
The next orbiter status report will be issued at about 5 p.m.
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