Shuttle astronauts bid space station fliers farewell
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: November 24, 2009
The Atlantis astronauts used the shuttle's maneuvering thrusters to boost the International Space Station's altitude by more than a mile early Tuesday, participated in a change-of-command ceremony aboard the lab complex and then bid their station colleagues farewell before closing hatches to set the stage for undocking Wednesday.
Shuttle commander Charles Hobaugh, pilot Barry Wilmore, Leland Melvin, Robert Satcher, Michael Foremanm, Randolph Bresnik and returning space station flight engineer Nicole Stott, wrapping up a three-month stay in space, joined the station crew a final time in the forward Harmony module around 12:40 p.m. EST.
"Working together as one team instead of two separate groups, it's a real testament to cooperation and everyone working toward a common goal," Hobaugh said. "So thanks."
Expedition 21 commander Frank De Winne of Belgium said "everything was very smooth, from the moment we opened the hatch until now that we transfer our last item, Nicole, over to you. Take good care of her. ... Thanks a lot for all the laughs and the joy you brought us and all the good work."
Stott, jokingly referred to as transfer item 914, embraced her former station crewmates and then was gently pushed across the module to the shuttle crew.
And with that, the seven shuttle fliers floated through the station's forward port and into Atlantis, sharing final hugs and handshakes as they departed. Hatches between the two spacecraft were closed at 1:12 p.m. If all goes well, Atlantis will undock from the station at 4:53 a.m. Wednesday.
The astronauts will carry out a final heat shield inspection and then spend Thanksgiving day testing Atlantis' re-entry systems and packing up for landing at the Kennedy Space Center around 9:44 a.m. Friday.
"Once the hatches are closed, we'll undock bright and early in the morning, we're going to do a one-lap fly around of the International Space Station to take imagery and gain engineering data on the exterior health of the space station," said Flight Director Mike Sarafin.
"We'll separate and do a waste dump to empty the tanks on the shuttle and then get right into the late (heat shield) inspecftion activities, which will wrap up flight day 10. After that, we'll prepare to bring Atlantis home, hopefully on Friday."
Over the course of the 129th shuttle mission, the Atlantis astronauts staged three spacewalks and delivered nearly 15 tons of spare components, equipment and supplies, including 1,400 pounds of fresh water to supplement the station's on-board supplies. The shuttle is bringing down some 2,100 pounds of gear from the station, including a centrifuge from the lab's urine recycling system that broke down before the shuttle's arrival.
The unit is the second distillation assembly to fail since the water recycling system was activated late last year. NASA plans to re-launch the first unit, which has been refurbished and improved, on the next shuttle flight in February. The unit being returned aboard Atlantis will be repaired and a third distillation assembly should be completed later this year.
The urine recycling system is critical to NASA's long-range plans to operate the station after the shuttle fleet is retired late next year. NASA plans to build six DAs in all to protect against failures down the road.
Earlier Tuesday, the combined crews held a space station change-of-command ceremony. Expedition 21 commander De Winne, a European Space Agency astronaut, was relieved by NASA astronaut Jeffrey Williams, who arrived at the station in October.
De Winne became ESA's first space station commander Oct. 9 when he relieved cosmonaut Gennady Padalka. De Winne, cosmonaut Roman Romanenko and Canadian astronaut Roberet Thirsk, launched to the station May 27, are scheduled to undock and return to Earth Monday, landing in Kazakhstan aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule to wrap up a 188-day stay in space.
"It has been an honor, a pleasure and a privilege to be able to work with this wonderful crew in Expedition 21," De Winne said. "But it's also been an honor and a pleasure to work with all the ground teams in the different control centers. The support that I've received both from my crew and from the control centers has been tremendous and magnificent.
"As the first European commander, it has been a great honor to be able to fulfill this role and I've only done this thanks to the help of all my colleagues as well at the European astronaut center and all the other European astronauts who have flown before me and have also shown excellence in their jobs."
Said Williams: "Frank, I'd also like to congratulate you on being the first commander of the space station that wasn't a Russian cosmonaut or a NASA astronaut. You've done a very good job, you have set the bar very high for me and also for all of those who follow us. So I want to congratulate you on that great achievement. You were the right person to transition us fully into six-crew (member) operations. So thank you for that and congratulations again."
Williams also praised De Winne's original two crewmates, Romanenko and Thirsk, as well as Stott, taking a moment to pin astronaut wings on her shirt as her first space mission draws to a close. A few moments later, he officially assumed command.
"Jeff, I'm ready to stand relieved," De Winne said.
"I relieve you of command," Williams replied.
"I stand relieved."
Wilmore then rang the ship's bell, the shuttle and station crews shook hands and the ceremony came to an end.
With the Monday departure of De Winne, Romanenko and Thirsk, Williams and cosmonaut Maxim Suraev will have the station to themselves until the arrival of another Soyuz Dec. 23 carrying cosmonaut Oleg Kotov, NASA flight engineer Timothy Creamer and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi.
The next shuttle visit is scheduled for launch around Feb. 6, a flight that will deliver one of the final U.S. pressurized modules to the lab complex. The station currently is about 86 percent complete, weighing some 760,000 pounds.
"The space station now is nearly complete," Thirsk said during a joint crew news conference earlier Tuesday. "If you think you've seen some pretty interesting expeditions aboard the space station, you ain't seen nothing yet. We're entering the golden era of the International Space Station program and science and technology demonstrations are going to take off from here."
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