Nearing the end of "one of the cleanest missions we've ever flown," the crew of the space shuttle Discovery prepared the spaceliner today for landing Monday morning at Edwards Air Force Base in California's Mojave Desert.
The landing is set for 9:12 a.m. (EDT), just after sunrise in the California desert where clear weather with unlimited visibility was forecast. Cable News Network said it planned live coverage to the eastern time zone.
"I'm not saying this one has been the cleanest, but this mission certainly has been one of the cleanest missions we've ever flown," flight director Larry Bourgeois said at Johnson Space Center in Houston. Flight director Milton Heflin added: "The crew has even been given an extra hour to sleep in on landing day. That's how successful this mission has been."
Even the two thruster jets that failed to fire during Discovery's rendezvous Saturday with a Spartan satellite resumed firing today during a test.
All of Discovery's goals were accomplished, including a laser tracking test with the Air Force, deployment and recovery of the Spartan and the deployment of three communications satellites for Mexico, Saudi Arabia and AT&T. New computer instructions for the autopilot worked flawlessly, saving at least 10 percent in maneuvering fuel and allowing the crew to sleep while the autopilot fired jets.
One highlight of the day was a telephone call to Prince Sultan Salman of Saudi Arabia, the first Arab to fly in space, from his uncle, King Fahd.
"Dear Sultan, we are proud of your mission," King Fahd said in Arabic to the prince. "It is a great achievement, and I am very happy to see you on Discovery." The Saudi king passed the phone to Saud's father, Prince Sultan, who said: "The best news I heard today is that you completed reading the Koran in space."
"I hope this will be a good deed for Islam, Moslems and the Arab nation," replied the son, who apparently had read most of the Koran before and finished reading the holy book in orbit.
The seven crew members later held an in-flight news conference, during which most of the questions were for the Saudi prince and French Air Force Col. Patrick Baudry. Baudry was asked if he had taken French wine with him into orbit or dreamed about being on Earth.
"Oui," Baudry said about the wine. "I have not tasted it during the flight, but I assure you it is very good wine and I want to see if it changes any because of being in weightlessness." On the dreaming, he said: "I did not have any dreams, except one. I dreamed I was in space. The best dream was to be awake and looking out the window."
Sultan Salman said he was delighted to get the phone call from his uncle. "I was very proud to get a call from His Majesty, who is father to us all," he said. "It makes my day."
Asked to comment on the hijacking of a TWA jet, the prince responded: "I think I'll stay in space, where there are no troubles. But there's troubles all over the world, not just in the Middle East. One thing that amazes me up here where there are no borders is that you can look down at Earth and not see any troubles.