CAPECANAVERAL, Fla. - Three spaceship crews made a cosmic phone call early Tuesdayin a rare orbital hookup that linked 12 spaceflyers together in Earth orbit.
Astronautsaboard NASA's shuttle Atlantis,the InternationalSpace Station (ISS) and the Russian Federal Space Agency's SoyuzTMA-9 spacecraft greeted one another with heartfelt hellos despitethe airless vacuum of space separating their three spacecraft. The shuttle's STS-115 crewis spending its last full day in space before a scheduled Wednesday morninglanding.
"It's alittle crowded in the sky this morning, not only with Atlantis you and us, butalso the Progress free-flying," ISS Expedition13 flight engineer JeffreyWilliams told NASA astronaut MichaelLopez-Alegria, Expedition14 commander, who sat aboard the Soyuz spacecraft with cosmonaut MikhailTyurin and U.S.entrepreneur Anousheh Ansari - the world'sfirst female space tourist. "We'll just have to keep eyeballs out a littlemore than usual."
"We'rewondering if we had to hire some more air traffic controllers for the increasedtraffic up here," said Lopez-Alegria, who with Tyurin will relieve Williams andExpedition 13 commander PavelVinogradov aboard the ISS this month.
"You guysare just starting your really long journey in space, and our really short oneis coming to an end much quicker than we would like," Atlantis'commander Brent Jett told the Expedition 14 astronauts, who launchedwith Ansari early Monday. "You're going to be impressed when you get there andI know you guys are going to have a good time."
AboardAtlantis, where six astronauts are packing items away and rehearsing landingprocedures,STS-115 mission specialist JosephTanner assured the space station's Expedition 13 crew that he and his crewdid not in any way touch the outpost's Russian-builtElektron oxygen generator before they undockedearly Sunday. A mild toxic liquid leaked from the Elektron Monday and led to ashort-lived emergency aboard the ISS Monday when the Expedition 13 crewreported a smoke-likesmell, though the matter was swiftly resolved and the Elektron takenoff-line.
Williamssaid he knew the shuttle crew wasn't to blame.
"We lookforward to seeing you all on the ground and reminiscing about our short missiontogether," Williams told the shuttle astronauts.
Atlantis'STS-115 crew is wrapping up an 11-daymission to the ISS, where they delivered a massive new addition - the outpost'sfirst since late2002 - in the form of twowing-like solar arrays and a pair of17.5-ton portside trusses. The astronauts are set to land at 5:59 a.m. EDT(0959 GMT) tomorrow here at NASA's Kennedy Space Center.
"Theweather's not looking all that good for tomorrow at KSC," Jett told the Soyuzand ISS astronauts. "It's supposed to be real good the next day, so we may endup getting an extra day on orbit, which would not be all bad."
Aboard theISS, Expedition 13's Vinogradov and Williams are also nearing their end oftheir own six-month spaceflight, and will return to Earth with Ansari on Sept.28 after a nine-day crew change. European Space Agency astronaut ThomasReiter, also an Expedition 13 flight engineer, will join Expedition 14'sLopez-Alegria and Tyurin for part of their mission.
Tuesday'searly-morning ship-to-ship call began while Atlantis and the ISS - flying about98 miles (157 kilometers) passed over Australia. The Soyuz began the call whileorbiting over Russian just north of the Black Sea, and trailed both spacecraft bymore than 6,400 miles (10,299 kilometers) in distance and 58 miles (149 kilometers)in altitude.
"You guysaccomplished a lot," Lopez-Alegria told Atlantis' crew. "I bet it'll be nice tohave a cold beer and a shower."
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