Spaceflight Now STS-108

Departing station crew eager for home, 'cold beer'
Posted: December 11, 2001

The departing crew of the international space station said Tuesday they're looking forward to hot showers and reunions with friends and family members after four long months in orbit. American commander Frank Culbertson said he's looking forward to a bowl of ice cream. For Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin, "a big glass of cold beer would be fine."

"I'm very proud of what we've accomplished," Culbertson told reporters Tuesday during an orbital news conference. "We accomplished all the tasks that were given to us, the big ones and the little ones. We probably did even a little bit more than people expected us to in some areas. So I'm very happy with what we've achieved, I'm very happy with the state of the station at this point and I'm very proud to be turning it over to Expedition 4."

NASA's mission management team, meanwhile, met Tuesday morning and officially approved a one-day extension for the shuttle Endeavour's mission. The additional day will be inserted in the crew's flight plan Wednesday and activities originally planned for Wednesday through the end of the mission will slip one day to the right.

Culbertson, Tyurin and Vladimir Dezhurov were launched to the station in August to become the lab's third full-time crew. When they return to Earth aboard shuttle Endeavour on Monday, they will have logged 129 days off the planet. While an official change-of-command ceremony will be held Thursday, Culbertson and his crewmates have officially joined Endeavour's crew, turning station operations over to Expedition 4 commander Yury Onufrienko, Daniel Bursch and Carl Walz.

Bursch and Walz both said they were amazed at the station's size and the pace of work aboard the outpost.

"The first impression I had was just how big it was," Bursch said. "It's massive and it's only partially built, which really amazes me. The other thing I found is there is a lot of work here. We've had 10 people here on board for several days already and everybody is very, very busy. So I imagine with only three people we've got our hands full."

Said Walz: "My impression again is just the size of the station. It's sort of like having your stateroom on one side of a football field and your office on the other and you're constantly running between - well, flying between - those two places. So it's a neat feeling. It just emphasizes the tremendous size of the station."

Endeavour is scheduled to undock from the space station Saturday morning. Bursch said watching the shuttle depart will be an emotional moment for the Expedition 4 crew. And for their departing crewmates.

"I'm certain there will be mixed feelings as we leave," Culbertson said. "This has been where we've lived and worked for four months and a very significant part of our lives, one of the most important things we'll remember in our lives probably.

"It's a very special experience to be able to do this, to have the honor to do this, to represent our countries and our programs. And we feel like we've accomplished a lot. So it will be hard to leave it. However we're leaving it in very capable hands and I have complete confidence they'll continue what we have done and improve on it."

But in the end, Culbertson said, "the most important thing is I feel very good, as do my crewmates, about going home to see our families and our friends and getting a chance to re-establish our lives on Earth. This has been great, but it's time to move on."

Onufrienko, Bursch and Walz will remain in orbit aboard the space station until next May when a fresh crew will be ferried up by the shuttle. In between, Onufrienko and his crewmates will help yet another shuttle crew continue the station's assembly in March and accept delivery of a fresh Soyuz lifeboat in April.

South African millionaire Mark Shuttleworth will join a Russian cosmonaut and a European Space Agency astronaut to deliver the new Soyuz and to take the station's current lifeboat back to Earth as it nears the end of its certified orbital lifetime. Shuttleworth is paying the Russians $25 million to become the second space tourist to visit the space station.

The first such tourist, American millionaire Dennis Tito, visited the station last April over NASA's strident objections. The U.S. space agency has since reached an agreement with the Russians on training and other issues and will no longer attempt to block such flights.

Maybe so. But Culbertson expressed reservations when asked about Shuttleworth's visit during Tuesday's news conference.

"The station's a working place and they're going to be extremely busy, the station is for workers," he said. "It puts an additional burden on the crew to have people up here that are not doing science or conducting experiments that are productive for the research effort of the station.

"I'm sure that whatever will be worked out will be worked out with the mutual consent of the partners and they'll do what they feel is best for the program. But this is a work place, a laboratory, a research facility."

For his part, Walz said having fresh faces on board will be a welcome change after five months in space, even if it means more work.

"As big as the station is, we only have one bathroom, for example, and one wash area, so that'll get crowded," he said. "But it's also nice to have visitors, too. It'll be about five months for us, it'll be nice to see new faces and talk to people.

"Dan and I have both had a chance to meet Mark Shuttleworth in Star City (near Moscow) and he's a very nice person," Walz said. "I think as long as the international partners work out the program, we'll do our best to be great hosts."