Shutle Discovery undocks from space station Alpha
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
Posted: 1330 GMT (08:30 p.m. EST), March 18, 2001
Updated: 0520 GMT (12:20 a.m. EST) - Adding shuttle undocking
Updated: 0750 GMT (01:50 a.m. EST) - Adding details from news briefing
Four hours later, at 0432 GMT (11:32 p.m. EST), the shuttle Discovery undocked from the space station, pulling smoothly away after an eight-day 21-hour and 54-minute linkup to deliver nearly five tons of supplies and equipment and to pick up about a ton of trash and discarded equipment.
More important, Discovery delivered the station's second full-time crew - Expedition Two commander Yury Usachev, James Voss and Susan Helms - and picked up the three men they replaced: Expedition One commander William Shepherd, Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev.
Discovery's touchdown at the Kennedy Space Center early Wednesday will mark the end of a 141-day stay in space Shepherd and his crewmates, who were launched to the station complex on Oct. 31 aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket.
A team of U.S. and Russian flight surgeons will be standing by to help the station crew members off the shuttle and to begin the long process of rehabilitation to help them re-adapt to the unfamiliar tug of Earth's gravity.
"While we consider this crew to be the best conditioned and the best exercised crew that has flown a long-duration mission, what they have to look forward to is a period of several weeks and months of rest and rehabilitation," flight surgeon Terry Taddeo said early Monday.
Exercise will start almost immediately in a phased approach designed to "gradually let the crew regain their strength and their conditioning and be able to return to the activities of daily living," Taddeo said.
All three station crew members will fly back to the Johnson Space Center in Houston the day after landing. Krikalev and Gidzenko will return to Russia about eight days later while Shepherd will continue his rehabilitation at his home in Houston.
Earlier in the evening, Shepherd, a former Navy SEAL commando and graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, presided over a formal change-of-command ceremony in the U.S. laboratory module Destiny.
Live television from the station showed the Expedition Two crew lined up along one wall of the lab, Shepherd and his crewmates facing them along the other wall and Discovery's crew - commander James Wetherbee, pilot James Kelly, Andrew Thomas and Paul Richards - floating in the middle.
"Houston, the first expedition crew is present and accounted for," Shepherd radioed around 7:30 p.m. "Change of command is an ancient naval tradition: The passage of responsibility for mission, welfare of crew and integrity of vessel from one individual to another.
"Space station Alpha has been commissioned in orbit, the service module has been activated, the power element and laboratory module have been brought aboard. A successful resupply mission with Discovery and her crew is complete. Station is at normal condition, all systems functional and ready to carry out operations.
"We are on a true space ship now, making our way above any earthly boundaries," he continued. "We are not the first crew to board Alpha nor the last to depart.
"But we have made Alpha come alive. We gave her a name and put substance to the idea that our crews can work together as equals and our countries as partners, that we may proceed with bolder and more enterprising voyages in space with benefits from our differences and with a stronger purpose in our common goals."
To Usachev, Shepherd said: "We pass to your care Alpha's log with the hope that many successful entries here are recorded, that explorations are prodigious and discoveries wondrous. May the good will, spirit and sense of mission we have enjoyed on board endure. Sail her well. I am ready to be relieved."
"And I relieve you," Usachev said, speaking in English. "Congratulations on the successful completion of your flight on ISS. Thanks again how station is in a good condition. And we take the station from your hands into our hands, our minds and our hearts."
"While aboard, we took great care of the systems, for this is not our ship," he said. "We merely sail on it. This ship belongs to the people of Earth.
"For Captain Shepherd and his crew, we hold you in admiration as we prepare to bring you home," Wetherbee said. "This has been an arduous duty for you. This ship was not built in a safe harbor, it was built on the high seas. As we sail for home on Discovery, we leave Expedition Two behind to carry on their mission of discovery aboard space station Alpha."
Wetherbee and company are scheduled to land on runway 15 at the Kennedy Space Center at 12:56 a.m. Wednesday. Forecasters are predicting low clouds, high winds and a chance of showers in the area, raising the prospect of a delay to Thursday.
Entry flight director Wayne Hale praised the accomplishments of the station crews, saying the transfer of command marked "a real turning point in the space program."
"It's a page in history as we transfer command from a U.S. naval officer to a Russian flight engineer of the orbital complex of the international space station," Hale said.
"We'e mindful that in just a couple of weeks we'll be celebrating two anniversaries: The 40th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin as the first human to orbit the Earth and the 20th anniversary, on the same day - April 12 - of the first flight of the U.S. space shuttle.
"So it's really fitting that we mark those occasions as a milestone in our joint endeavor to come together in international cooperation in space," Hale said. "We're really pleased with the way everything is going."
See the Status Center for full play-by-play coverage.