On its own again following yesterday's undocking from the International Space Station, Space Shuttle Atlantis and its crew today focuses on readying the orbiter for the return to Earth tomorrow at 10:44 a.m. Weather forecasts indicate pristine conditions across the southeastern U.S. tomorrow with clear skies and light winds.
The first steps in changing Atlantis from a spaceship to an airplane are to test its aero surfaces, required as the orbiter begins to interact with the upper atmosphere on reentry and landing. Also tested today are the thruster jets on the nose and tail of Atlantis which maneuver the vehicle prior to dropping below 400,000 feet in altitude following the deorbit burn.
Atlantis' computers systematically deactivate these jets when desired air pressure readings are detected at various stages throughout entry and landing.
The crew of Commander Jeff Ashby, Pilot Pam Melroy and Mission Specialists Dave Wolf, Sandy Magnus, Piers Sellers and Cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin spend the day stowing equipment, supplies and belongings in preparation for tomorrow's anticipated return to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
At 11:46 this morning, the crew will discuss the success of the mission with media representatives from the AP Radio Network, KMOX Radio of St. Louis and WISH-TV of Indianapolis. The interview will air on NASA Television.
Behind the shuttle at a distance of 120 miles (193 kilometers), the ISS Expedition Five crew of Commander Valery Korzun, NASA ISS Science Officer Peggy Whitson and Cosmonaut Sergei Treschev are preparing for their next visitors, a Soyuz taxi crew scheduled to arrive late this month. The taxi crew will return to Earth in the Soyuz at the station, which is nearing its certified on orbit life limit.
The shuttle crew began its last full day on orbit with a wakeup call from Mission Control at 2:18 a.m. The song "These are the Days" performed by Natalie Merchant was played for Sellers at the request of his wife.
Atlantis' crew sleep begins at about 6:30 this evening and the crew will be awakened at 2:16 a.m. Friday to begin landing preparations.
The next STS-112 status report will be issued later today.
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