Atlantis Shuttle Crew Undocks from Space Station
A camera aboard the space shuttle Atlantis returned this view of the International Space Station, backdropped by Earth, after the STS-117 crew undocked on June 19, 2007.
Credit: NASA TV.

This story was updated at 6:59 p.m. EDT.

HOUSTON -- Seven astronauts aboard NASA?s shuttle Atlantis cast off from the International Space Station (ISS) Tuesday, leaving the orbital laboratory with a more balanced look after installing new starboard solar wings.

?We?ll see you back on planet Earth,? Atlantis commander Rick Sturckow told the space station?s Expedition 15 crew as the shuttle departed.

Atlantis undocked from the space station at 10:42 a.m. EDT (1442 GMT) as both spacecraft passed 213 miles (342 kilometers) above the Coral Sea off the coast of Australia.

Sturckow and his STS-117 crew arrived at the ISS on June 10 and performed four spacewalks to install a new pair of 17.5-ton trusses and unfurl two new solar arrays to the station?s starboard side. The astronauts also stowed an older solar wing atop the station, stapled down a torn shuttle thermal blanket and assisted the Expedition 15 crew to revive vital Russian ISS computer systems after they failed last week.

During the shuttle mission, a new ISS crewmember relieved NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, who passed the 191-day mark in space Tuesday and is setting a new record for the longest spaceflight by a female astronaut. She joined the space station crew in December 2006 and relinquished her Expedition 15 flight engineer post to fellow NASA astronaut Clayton Anderson.

?Godspeed Atlantis,? Anderson said as the shuttle pulled away from the ISS. ?Thank you for everything.?

The STS-117 crew is slated to land at 1:54 p.m. EDT (1754 GMT) Thursday at NASA?s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, with additional landing attempts on Friday and Saturday if weather intervenes, the space agency said. The shuttle has enough supplies to stay in orbit until Sunday, though that extra day would be reserved in the case of an unforeseen malfunction, NASA officials said.

Atlantis will take up a station-keeping position about 46 miles (73 kilometers) from the ISS while its crew uses a sensor-laden boom to perform a second detailed inspection of the orbiter?s heat shield later today. Known as a late inspection, the survey is now a standard activity for all shuttle missions after NASA?s 2003 Columbia accident and will scan the Atlantis? wings and nose cap for any orbital debris and micrometeorite damage sustained during the spaceflight.

An identical inspection conducted on June 9 verified the integrity of the shuttle?s heat shield after its launch one day earlier, leading mission managers to clear Atlantis for landing pending today?s follow-up survey.

NASA said late Tuesday that image analysts were also tracking the source of an apparent piece of debris seen in video cameras aboard Atlantis to determine if it came from the orbiter of the ISS.

Space station power boost

Atlantis? STS-117 mission is the first of up to four planned shuttle flights this year to continue assembly of the ISS. The new solar arrays delivered by the shuttle astronauts primed the station?s power grid to support the addition of a new connecting module and European laboratory slated to launch later this year.

?It?s really exciting to see the station in this configuration,? said ISS flight director Holly Ridings early Monday. ?I think we all feel like we accomplished the mission objectives.?

Shuttle pilot Lee Archambault flew Atlantis around the ISS while his crewmates photographed the space station for engineers back on Earth. Prior to the NASA?s STS-117 mission, the station had an off-kilter look with one set of portside solar arrays deployed and half of an older solar wing partly stowed atop the outpost.

?It looks beautiful,? Sturckow said of the station?s new profile.

Meanwhile, the station?s Russian ISS control and navigation computers continue to function properly after they were resuscitated Saturday, Ridings said. All six computers governing the station?s Russian-built segment crashed last week after redundant, surge protector-like secondary power sources failed in each of them.

Working together with Russian engineers on Earth, Expedition 15 commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and flight engineer Oleg Kotov - both Russian cosmonauts - bypassed the faulty components and reactivated the computers. ISS flight controllers, meanwhile, are still working to determine exactly what caused the devices to fail.

?The space station is in very, very good shape,? Riding said.

The Atlantis crew left the ISS with additional supplies of oxygen and other cargo before leaving the ISS, including: 115 pounds (52 kilograms) of oxygen, 1,660 pounds (752 kilograms) of water, and some spare parts to replenish those used in the Russian computer system fix.

The shuttle is returning about 1,500 pounds (680 kilograms) of experiments, unneeded equipment and other items from the ISS.

Carrying on a new tradition aboard the ISS, Anderson has already come up with his own game to play with Mission Control on Earth dubbed ?Space Traveler Trivia? and the end of each day.

?Clay, we think, is going to be a lot of fun,? Ridings said.

Late Monday, Yurchikhin lamented today?s departure of Atlantis after a heartfelt farewell ceremony between the station and shuttle crews.

?Everything is kind of empty, devoid of life,? the Expedition 15 commander told Russian Mission Control of the ISS.

NASA is broadcasting the space shuttle Atlantis' STS-117 mission live on NASA TV. Click here for mission updates and
SPACE.com's video feed.

  • SPACE.com Video Interplayer: Space Station Power Up with STS-117
  • IMAGES: Atlantis Shuttle?s STS-117 Launch Day
  • Complete Shuttle Mission Coverage