Thursday, November 26, 2009

In space, a day for thanks and landing preps

The first shuttle crew to spend Thanksgiving in space flew aboard Atlantis in 1985. The seventh crew to do so is orbiting in Atlantis today.

Mission commander Charlie Hobaugh and six crewmates extended Thanksgiving wishes to the nation on their last full day in space before returning home to end a successful 11-day mission.

"Yesterday we departed from the International Space Station, leaving behind five of our international crew members," Charlie Hobaugh said in a taped message with the crew on Atlantis' flight deck. "But together, as we orbit the Earth every 90 minutes, we would like to wish you a very happy Thanksgiving."

"Happy Thanksgiving!" the crew said in unison.

At the Mission Control Center in Houston, spacecraft tracking maps have replaced icons of the shuttle (top) and station (below) with pictures of turkeys.

NASA is thankful for what has been an extremely smooth flight so far.

"We're coming to the end of what has been an extraordinary mission for us," LeRoy Cain, chairman of the Mission Management Team, said Wednesday.

On Flight Day 11, the crew awaits the results of Wednesday's final heat shield inspection.

Meanwhile, they'll begin a busy round of tests to the orbiter's flight control systems and thrusters to make sure they are also in good condition for Friday's planned re-entry through Earth's atmosphere.

Atlantis is targeting a 9:44 a.m. Friday touchdown at Kennedy Space Center, the first of two opportunities, and the forecast is positive.

"The forecast looks very good for Friday," said Cain.

Only KSC will be activated as a landing site both Friday and Saturday, Cain said.

Entry Flight Director Bryan Lunney will provide an update today at 11:30 a.m.

Hobaugh has said since before the mission that being in space for Thanksgiving was no big deal, and he's not concerned about what the crew eats.

As it happens, the astronauts' menus were planned when the mission was expected to return before the holiday, so they don't include traditional Thanksgiving items.

Five station crewmembers, including American Jeff Williams, have turkey, cornbread stuffing, candied yams and cran-apple desert as part of a regular 16-day food rotation.

But if Atlantis lands as planned Friday, its crew will likely find some leftovers waiting at home.

Here's a look at the day ahead for Atlantis:

-- 1:28 a.m. Atlantis crew awakes.

-- 4:48 a.m. Cabin stowage begins.

-- 5:48 a.m. Flight control system tests begin.

-- 6:58 a.m. Test firing of reaction control system jets.

-- 9:13 a.m. Media interviews with ABC News, WTVT-TV and KCBS-TV

-- 1:28 p.m. Recumbent seat set up for mission specialist Nicole Stott to help her body adjust to Earth's gravity after three months in space.

-- 2:28 p.m. Shuttle's Ku-band antenna stowed.

-- 5:28 p.m. Atlantis crew sleeps.

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