Endeavour's astronauts wrapped up their mission objectives and packed up their ship, ready for a landing late tonight at Kennedy Space Center and the end of the first mission to assemble the International Space Station.
With Endeavour more than 340 miles in front of the new station, the astronauts tested the shuttle's aerosurfaces and steering jets to ensure the ship's controllability during reentry to the Earth's atmosphere. All of Endeavour's systems were declared in good working order, enabling the astronauts to stow equipment used during the flight in preparation for their high-speed homecoming.
International Space Station flight controllers report that all systems on the new complex are functioning normally as the station orbits the Earth at an altitude of 246 statute miles, the Unity module facing the Earth and the Zarya module facing deep space. The station was commanded to spin slowly at one revolution every 30 minutes to maintain the proper heating and cooling while it flies unpiloted for the next five months. The next shuttle assembly mission to the station is STS-96, scheduled for launch aboard Discovery in May.
Late last night, at 8:09 p.m. Central time, the astronauts completed the final task of the flight, deploying a 700-pound Air Force technology satellite called MightySat as Endeavour sailed over Indonesia. MightySat will send back data on the effect of the space environment on composite materials and advanced solar power cells.
The six astronauts will begin an eight-hour sleep period at 3:36 a.m. and be awakened at 11:36 a.m. to begin final landing preparations.
If all goes as planned, Endeavour's cargo bay doors will swing shut at 6:07 p.m., after which the astronauts will climb into their launch and entry suits and strap into their seats. Commander Bob Cabana, Pilot Rick Sturckow and Flight Engineer Nancy Currie will be joined on the flight deck for entry by Mission Specialist Jim Newman, while crew mates Jerry Ross and Sergei Krikalev will be seated down on the middeck.
Scattered to broken clouds and no rain showers are predicted for Kennedy Space Center at landing time. If the forecast holds, Entry Flight Director John Shannon will give the green light to fire Endeavour's twin braking rockets at 8:47 p.m. Central time. The deorbit burn will slow the shuttle by 349 feet per second, allowing it to descend back to Earth. Landing is scheduled at 9:54 p.m. Central time on runway 3-3 at the Shuttle Landing Facility to complete a 4.6-million-mile mission, the 10th night landing in shuttle program history.
A backup landing opportunity is available at KSC 90 minutes later, at 11:30 p.m. Central time (12:30 a.m. Eastern time Wednesday). Mission managers decided not to call up landing support at the backup landing site at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., for this evening's opportunities.
Endeavour is orbiting the Earth at an altitude of 246 statute miles, with all of its systems in excellent.
The next STS-88 status report will be issued after the astronauts are awakened.
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