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Shuttle Crew Stows Equipment to Prepare for Landing Today

January 16, 1986|Associated Press

HOUSTON — Columbia's hard-luck astronauts, 25 days late taking off, one day early coming down, and unable to meet all of their scientific goals, stowed equipment Wednesday to prepare for the shuttle's first Florida landing in nearly a year.

The $150-million flight was set to end after four days in orbit with a landing at 5:28 a.m. PST today at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The mission had been scheduled to last until Friday, but National Aeronautics and Space Administration officials decided to end it early to avoid chancy weather on Friday and Saturday.

The landing today also will help NASA keep to a tight schedule that calls for 15 shuttle launchings this year. That schedule has already been affected by the six launching delays that kept Columbia on the ground 25 days past its original flight date of Dec. 18. NASA announced Wednesday that the next shuttle mission, originally set to begin Jan. 22, now will come no earlier than Jan. 25.

A Landing Experiment

The Kennedy landing will be the first at the Florida space base since a landing there last April resulted in two blown tires and a damaged brake system. Landings since then have been made at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

One major experiment of the flight will be conducted during the landing itself. An infrared camera mounted in the shuttle's tail will measure temperatures atop Columbia while it burns through the atmosphere on its way back to Earth.

Mission commander Robert L. Gibson and his six crew mates spent most of Wednesday packing equipment and turning off electronic gear to prepare for the landing.

They did talk briefly with Costa Rica President Luis Alberto Monge. The call was in honor of astronaut Franklin R. Chang-Diaz, a native of Costa Rica and an American citizen who is the first Latino from this country to fly in space.

Making Tacos in Space

Monge said a farmer in his country wanted to ask Chang-Diaz what they were eating in space.

"We brought along some tortillas, so we are making tacos this time in space," said Chang-Diaz, spinning a package of tortillas in weightlessness.

It was the first flight for Columbia since it underwent an 18-month overhaul that included installation of some new electronics.

"We were all anticipating unknowns in Columbia because of the massive modifications done on it," flight director Jay Greene said. "But it's as trouble-free a vehicle as we've seen."

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