Spaceflight Now STS-108

Endeavour departs station
Posted: December 15, 2001

The shuttle Endeavour undocked from the international space station today as the two spacecraft sailed over the western coast of Australia. On command, powerful springs in the shuttle's docking mechanism pushed the shuttle gently away at 12:28 p.m. and a few moments later, pilot Mark Kelly fired small maneuvering jets to slightly increase Endeavour's departure velocity.

"We have physical separation," shuttle commander Dominic Gorie radioed. "Mark's executing the separation burn."

A few moments after that, Navy Capt. Daniel Bursch, a member of the space station's new crew, rang the ship's bell in accordance with naval tradition, radioing "Endeavour, departing."

Kelly flew Endeavour through a half loop around the station, starting from a point directly ahead of the outpost then looping over the top and continuing on to a point directly behind the lab complex.

As the shuttle moved behind the station, commander Dominic Gorie radioed a final farewell.

"Alpha, Endeavour, on the minus V-bar, we're separating," he called. "Fair winds and following seas, my friends."

"Thanks a lot, Dom," Expedition 4 flight engineer Daniel Bursch replied from the station. "It was great flying with you guys. We'll miss all of you and hopefully, it'll seem like yesterday when we get home."

Departing commander Frank Culbertson then added his final thoughts.

"Yury, Dan and Carl, from Frank, Vladimir and Mikhail, thank you for your arrival, for taking command of the station," he said. "And we want to thank the station and all who built her and who operate her from the ground for the opportunity and the honor of living aboard for this time. She looks beautiful from here, it's a wonderful machine inside also. We wish you the best. We'll be thinking about you constantly while you're there. And to international space station Alpha: Thank you for being a wonderful home for 129 days."

"And Frank, it was our pleasure to be able to relieve you," Bursch replied. "And I think the station still misses you because the SSRMS camera (on the station's robot arm) has kept on following you."

Before the hatches between Endeavour and the station were closed for the final time earlier this morning, the departing Expedition 3 crew, their replacements - Expedition 4 commander Yury Onufrienko, Bursch and Carl Walz - and the shuttle's four astronauts gathered in the U.S. Destiny laboratory module for a final farewell.

Culbertson said he wanted "to take this opportunity to say farewell to the station that's been our home for four months and to say farewell to Expedition 4, who is ready to go and ready to see us leave, I believe, so they can get to work and get this place back in order. And to say thanks to the Endeavour crew, who has done such a great job of transferring people and hardware and logistics and will be our ride home, of course."

"But we'd also like to say thank you to all the teams on the ground who worked so hard to not only put up with us, but to improve our life up here, to improve operations and to respond to the mutual recommendations made by both the ground and the people on board ... to improve research and continue to make this a better and more efficient place to work. We sure appreciate everything everybody has done."

Culbertson's two Russian crewmates also said a few words.

"On behalf of myself and the whole crew, I'd like to thank everyone who's building the space station, making parts of the space station and partially have already created a great outpost here in space," said Vladimir Dezhurov. "We have become a great post where we can perform research and a lot of experiments. I would like to wish good luck to the new crew on board the space station and we're ready to go home."

Culbertson concluded, saying "it's been a great ride."

"It's now time to say goodbye. We feel like we've accomplished a lot, we feel our mission has been successful. However the most important thing for everybody to remember is the journey continues, the work continues, the research continues and it will for many, many years thanks to good people here and good people on the ground. ... It's been a wonderful experience for all of us."

Before floating back to Endeavour and leaving the Expedition 4 crew on its own, Culbertson presented them with a small Christmas tree to "help you count down the days until Christmas."

"And it has a little souvenir for each day in December until the 25th and hopefully, it will help you get in the spirit," Culbertson said. "And a few candy canes to hang above your (sleep stations) and in your tree. And Dan, you can't eat them now!"