Astronauts Prepare to Leave Space Station
Eight of the 12 crew members currently on the International Space Station pose for a photo while Space Shuttle Atlantis is docked with the station in November 2009. Pictured from the left are NASA astronauts Leland Melvin, Robert L. Satcher Jr., both STS-129 mission specialists; Charles O. Hobaugh, STS-129 commander; Nicole Stott, STS-129 mission specialist; Russian cosmonauts Roman Romanenko and Maxim Suraev and NASA astronaut Jeffrey Williams, all Expedition 21 flight engineers; and European Space Agency astronaut Frank De Winne, Expedition 21 commander.
Credit: NASA

The seven astronauts on shuttle Atlantis have bid farewell to the crew of the space station and are gearing up to undock on Wednesday.

STS-129 shuttle commander Charlie Hobaugh led the crew in last goodbyes, after his team spent about a week at the orbiting laboratory delivering spare parts and paving the way for the final building stages of the station.

Hobaugh and company shut the hatches between their orbiter and the International Space Station (ISS) Tuesday afternoon, and they plan to detach from the outpost at 4:53 a.m. EST (0953 GMT) Wednesday and head back to Earth for a landing at 9:44 a.m. EST (1444 GMT) on Friday.

Departing with Hobaugh are pilot Barry Wilmore and mission specialists Leland Melvin, Randy Bresnik, Mike Foreman and Robert "Bobby" Satcher, Jr. A seventh crewmember, NASA astronaut Nicole Stott, will join them on the return trip after spending about three months on the station as an Expedition 21 flight engineer.

"It's just been a really amazing adventure, and I think the station is better for it, and I'm just really thankful to have had a part in it," Stott said of her mission Tuesday.

Earlier today during a change-of-command ceremony ISS commander Frank DeWinne of Belgium officially transferred control of the station to new commander Jeff Williams of NASA.

Williams presented Stott with a gold pin to commemorate her first flight in space, a NASA tradition.

"Usually they get it when they're back on the ground," Williams said. "I thought it would be special to bring it here and present it onboard the space station. Congratulations on a very successful expedition."

The shuttle astronauts are capping off a smooth mission, where they accomplished all their main objectives plus some get-ahead chores to leave the station in good shape. At this point the space laboratory is about 85 percent complete, said Dan Hartman, ISS manager of integration and operations.

"The crew is doing really well, they're in good spirits and everybody is ready for the mission to wrap up," lead shuttle flight director Mike Sarafin said Tuesday. "Everybody has been working really hard."

The astronauts spent the morning transferring some last pieces of cargo over to the shuttle, including a broken part to the station's urine recycler, which NASA plans to analyze on the ground to figure out what went wrong.

Many of the shuttle astronauts said they were most excited to see their families once they got back to the ground. One spaceflyer with a particular longing for home is Randy Bresnik, whose wife gave birth to the couple's baby daughter while he was in space.

"It was just wonderful to find out the news," Bresnik said. "I think the common theme you'll hear from all of us is we just want to see our families as soon as possible."

SPACE.com is providing complete coverage of Atlantis' STS-129 mission to the International Space Station with Staff Writer Clara Moskowitz and Managing Editor Tariq Malik based in New York. Click here for shuttle mission updates and a link to NASA TV.