Weather permitting, Columbia, America’s first Space Shuttle, may visit
Houston’s Ellington Field on Saturday, Feb. 24, while it is en route to
Florida piggyback atop NASA’s 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft.

Because of the strict weather criteria regarding Shuttle ferry aircraft
flights, Columbia’s potential visit is subject to change or cancellation
up until only a few hours before its arrival. The public and media can
track the progress of Columbia’s cross-country flight and the potential
for a Houston stop by calling recorded telephone messages at the NASA
Broadcast News Service, (281) 483-8600. The recorded message will be
updated frequently to provide the latest information on the progress of
Columbia’s flight.

If weather allows, the initial plan for Columbia’s cross-country voyage
will be to depart California about 9 a.m. PST Feb. 24 and fly to
Ellington, arriving there about 3 p.m. CST. Columbia would park near
NASA’s Hangar 990 at Ellington and remain there overnight. The Ellington
gate at Hangar 990 will be opened to permit public viewing beginning
about 45 minutes after landing until approximately 8 p.m. Columbia would
depart Ellington about 9 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 25. Ellington’s gates will
not be opened to the public on Sunday, although the departure can easily
be viewed from outside the field.

Media wishing to cover Columbia’s arrival will be allowed through the
gate at NASA Hangar 990 30 minutes before the anticipated landing time.
Media also will be allowed into Ellington about 30 minutes before
Columbia’s departure on Sunday.

Fresh from a year and half at Boeing’s Palmdale, Calif., shuttle factory
for maintenance, inspections and upgrades, Columbia is being taken back
to the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, to prepare for its next space
flight, planned for launch this fall. The more than 100 improvements
made to Columbia make it safer and more capable than ever before, and
include a new ìglass cockpitî that has replaced mechanical instruments
with flat computer screens. Other improvements include a variety of
measures that have reduced Columbia’s weight by more than a thousand
pounds; increased protection from space debris; intensive wiring
inspections and protective measures; thorough structural inspections and
maintenance; enhanced heat protection for the wing edges; and
preliminary preparations that could allow Columbia to make flights to
the International Space Station if needed.

Columbia has made 26 trips to space and is nearing the 20th anniversary
of its first flight, the maiden voyage of a Space Shuttle, mission STS-1
which launched on April 12, 1981.