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February 22, 2001

James Hartsfield
Johnson Space Center, Houston,TX

Release: J01-15


Space Shuttle Columbia May Stop In Houston Feb. 24

Weather permitting, Columbia, America’s first Space Shuttle, may visit Houston’s Ellington Field on Saturday, Feb. 24, while it is en route to Florida piggyback atop NASA’s 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft.

Because of the strict weather criteria regarding Shuttle ferry aircraft flights, Columbia’s potential visit is subject to change or cancellation up until only a few hours before its arrival. The public and media can track the progress of Columbia’s cross-country flight and the potential for a Houston stop by calling recorded telephone messages at the NASA Broadcast News Service, (281) 483-8600. The recorded message will be updated frequently to provide the latest information on the progress of Columbia’s flight.

If weather allows, the initial plan for Columbia’s cross-country voyage will be to depart California about 9 a.m. PST Feb. 24 and fly to Ellington, arriving there about 3 p.m. CST. Columbia would park near NASA’s Hangar 990 at Ellington and remain there overnight. The Ellington gate at Hangar 990 will be opened to permit public viewing beginning about 45 minutes after landing until approximately 8 p.m. Columbia would depart Ellington about 9 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 25. Ellington’s gates will not be opened to the public on Sunday, although the departure can easily be viewed from outside the field.

Media wishing to cover Columbia’s arrival will be allowed through the gate at NASA Hangar 990 30 minutes before the anticipated landing time. Media also will be allowed into Ellington about 30 minutes before Columbia’s departure on Sunday.

Fresh from a year and half at Boeing’s Palmdale, Calif., shuttle factory for maintenance, inspections and upgrades, Columbia is being taken back to the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, to prepare for its next space flight, planned for launch this fall. The more than 100 improvements made to Columbia make it safer and more capable than ever before, and include a new “glass cockpit” that has replaced mechanical instruments with flat computer screens. Other improvements include a variety of measures that have reduced Columbia’s weight by more than a thousand pounds; increased protection from space debris; intensive wiring inspections and protective measures; thorough structural inspections and maintenance; enhanced heat protection for the wing edges; and preliminary preparations that could allow Columbia to make flights to the International Space Station if needed.

Columbia has made 26 trips to space and is nearing the 20th anniversary of its first flight, the maiden voyage of a Space Shuttle, mission STS-1 which launched on April 12, 1981.


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