Atlantis is set to conclude its voyage in space at 5:59 p.m. Central time Sunday at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, following this morning’s checkout of systems that will be used during reentry and landing. Weather forecasters will be closely monitoring wind conditions at KSC which are expected to be near the cross wind limit at the Shuttle Landing Facility runway, but generally favorable conditions are anticipated for both landing opportunities available to KSC tomorrow. The backup landing site at Edwards Air Force Base, California is not being considered for a Sunday evening homecoming.
Commander Jim Wetherbee, Pilot Mike Bloomfield and Mission Specialist Scott Parazynski spent the morning testing Atlantis’ flight control surfaces and thruster jets to ensure they are ready to support the Shuttle’s high speed return to Earth.
A good part of the astronauts’ final day on orbit was devoted to stowing equipment and finishing experiment work in the Spacehab module in the cargo bay. The crew will go to bed this evening at 10:34 p.m. Central time for an eight-hour sleep period which will end with a wakeup call from Mission Control at 6:34 a.m. CDT.
Earlier today Wetherbee and Mission Specialist Jean Loup Chretien had an opportunity to talk with French news media and school children. Following that conversation, all six crewmembers talked to four test subjects in an advance life support test underway at Johnson Space Center in Houston. The test team entered a closed chamber in Houston September 19 and will remain sealed inside until late December evaluating the effectiveness of regenerative life support systems that could be used for extended space missions.
Deorbit preparations will begin just before 1 p.m. CDT Sunday followed a little less than 90 minutes later by closing of Atlantis’ payload bay doors at about 2:11 p.m. The astronauts are scheduled to don their launch and entry suits shortly before 3 p.m. Entry Flight Director Linda Ham is expected to poll the flight control team for the final decision for the deorbit burn 20 minutes prior to the planned firing of Atlantis’ orbital maneuvering system engines at 4:52 p.m.
In addition to all of the items being brought back from the Mir Space Station, Atlantis is ferrying home astronaut Mike Foale, who is returning to Earth after 134 days on the Mir. If Atlantis lands as planned Sunday, Foale will have logged 144 days in space on this flight, the second longest single spaceflight by a U.S. astronaut behind the record 188-day stay in orbit by Shannon Lucid last year. Foale’s replacement on the Mir, David Wolf, is continuing his work with his two crewmates with the Russian orbiting facility.
Atlantis continues to orbit the Earth every 90 minutes in excellent condition at an altitude of about 230 statute miles.
The next STS-86 status report will be issued early Sunday morning.
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