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.