U.S. President Barack Obama speaks to the shuttle and station crew members on March 24, 2009 during the STS-119 mission.
Credit: White House/Pete Souza
This story was updated at 12:24 p.m. EDT.
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Astronauts aboard the shuttle Discovery and International Space Station received an orbital call from U.S. President Barack Obama Tuesday to congratulate them on a job well done to boost the orbiting laboratory to full power.
?The first thing we want to do is just to let you know how proud we are of you,? the president told the spaceflyers. ?We are extremely excited about the project that you?re doing.?
The 10 astronauts aboard the docked Discovery and space station have spent the last week installing new solar arrays to complete the outpost?s power grid and metallic backbone, with the shuttle crew set to depart on Wednesday. President Obama called them from the Roosevelt Room in the White House and said their efforts are very timely for people back on Earth and the U.S.
?We?re investing, back here on the ground, in a whole array of solar and other renewable energy products, so to find out that you?re doing this up at the space station is particularly exciting,? the president said.
While he was proud of the American astronauts aboard the station and shuttle, the president said he was encouraged by the feat of international cooperation behind the space station and its multi-national crew, which now includes astronauts from the U.S., Russia and Japan.
?This really symbolizes the future of the scientific development of the world and I?m just happy to be part of it,? said Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata, Japan?s first long-term resident of the space station who arrived aboard Discovery.
President Obama said he was especially pleased to speak to the spaceflyers since one of them, NASA astronaut Sandra Magnus, was from Bellwood in his state of Illinois. He asked Magnus, who is finishing a four-month mission aboard the station, if she ever felt tempted to cut her long hair, which billowed out around her in weightlessness.
?I think ideally a short haircut is the way to go, but frankly on me it wouldn?t be so nice, so I kept it long,? Magnus answered.
?I think it?s a real fashion statement,? the president said.
President Obama was joined by Congressional leaders and schoolchildren as he spoke to Discovery and station astronauts. At times he took questions from the students for the astronauts on subjects ranging from how many stars they could see in space to their daily menu and exercise plans.
Shuttle skipper Lee Archambault said he and his crew were honored to speak with the president, while station commander Michael Fincke said the space station has been a tangible example of international cooperation.
?It?s pretty impressive what human beings can do when work together constructively and not destructively, and that?s what our mission is at the International Space Station,? Fincke said. ?Thanks for flying with us.?
Astronauts rest up
Discovery and station astronauts plan to discuss their 13-day mission to deliver solar arrays and a new crewmember to the station with reporters later today. They will also move some cargo between their two ships before settling into some free time before they head home.
?It?s important for us to rest up, the orbiter crew [in] particular, since in just a few days from now they?re going to have to successfully execute a re-entry and landing,? Kwatsi Alibaruho, NASA?s lead station flight director for the flight, told reporters late Monday from Houston. ?They?ve had a lot of time off coming to them.?
Discovery will undock from the station Wednesday at 3:53 p.m. EDT (1953 GMT), just one day before a Russian Soyuz spacecraft is poised to blast off from the Central Asian spaceport of Baikonor Cosmodrome with a new crew and American billionaire Charles Simonyi - who is paying more than $30 million for his second trip to space. The Soyuz will arrive at the space station on Saturday, the same day Discovery is due to land in Florida.
Discovery?s crew performed three spacewalks to install the station?s fourth and final set of solar wings to complete the space station?s power grid. The arrays are moored to a 16-ton girder that, when mounted to the starboard edge of the station, completed the orbiting lab?s backbone-like main truss. After more than a decade of construction, the station is now 81 percent complete, longer than a football field and weighs nearly 1 million pounds.
The shuttle astronauts also delivered a spare part for the space station?s urine recycler, which filters astronaut urine back into pure water for drinking, food preparation, bathing and other uses. The recycling system had been broken since last December, but appears to be working well after the repairs.
?Overall we?re absolutely thrilled and we?re very happy that we were able to accomplish what we did,? Alibaruho said. ?We certainly accomplished our highest priority objectives, and certainly the ones that we were most concerned about were executed flawlessly without problems.?
SPACE.com is providing continuous coverage of STS-119 with reporter Clara Moskowitz and senior editor Tariq Malik in New York. Click here for mission updates and SPACE.com's live NASA TV video feed.
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