HOUSTON - Sevenastronauts climbed into the space shuttle Discovery today, bidding farewell to theInternational Space Station (ISS) in a tear-jerking ceremony.
The STS-120space shuttle brought a bus-sized room, spare parts and a replacementfor space station crewmember Clay Anderson. Discovery undocks tomorrow around5:32 a.m. EST (1032 GMT), following 12 days latched onto the orbital laboratory.
Just beforeastronauts sealed hatches between Discovery and the ISS today around 3:25 p.m.EST (2025 GMT), the two crews exchanged zero-gravity hugs and goodbyes to the music of Collective Soul's "Reunion."
"Ourcrews have matched so well," said shuttle commander Pamela Melroy, who madehistory by being one of the first two female commanders in space with ISScommander Peggy Whitson. "There's been a lot of laughter, a lot of fun anda lot of hard work during the past few docked days. We're family now."
Whitson wastoo choked up to share words, but MissionControl here at Johnson Space Center (JSC) took some time to thank theastronauts.
"Itwas an honor and a privilege to watch you guys do your work," said DerekHassman, ISS lead flight director. "What an unbelievably successfulmission."
Highlightinga riskySaturday spacewalk to mend a torn solar wing at a far end of the spacestation, lead shuttle flight director Rick LaBrode agreed that the astronauts'mission at the orbital laboratory has been a huge success.
"Thecrew and the ground teams are really on a major high," LaBrode said of yesterday'ssuccessful repair, which had spacewalkers Scott Parazynski and Doug Wheelock repairinga torn 4B solar array wing on the Port 6 truss. "It was definitelysomething really special."
LaBrodesaid astronauts were busy rounding up supplies today. Just prior to closing thehatches, however, two items were left on the list to exchange: astronauts ClayAnderson and Dan Tani.
NASAspokespeople said that, on the list of items to swap between Discovery and theISS, item number 900 was astronaut Clay Anderson, set to fly home tomorrow,while item number 901 was astronaut Dan Tani, who will remain as a member ofthe Expedition 16 space station crew.
Holdingback a flood tears that eventually came out, Anderson thanked NASA's ground teamsfor their support--to which mission controllers applauded.
"Youall kept me safe, showed me unwavering patience and professionalism, and you'veall overlooked my shortcomings," Anderson said. "Thank you, you areindeed the best and the brightest that our world has to offer."
Anderson arrived as a rookie to the spacestation in June 2007, replacing record-breaking astronautSunita Williams as a member of the Expedition 15 crew. The Nebraska native ventured outside the space station on three spacewalks during his 5-monthstay at the ISS--and gave NASA plenty of laughs with on-orbit antics.
Just beforeleaving his temporary home in space, Anderson read off the final members of hislist of 597 "famous towns in Nebraska." "It's never too latefinish," he said before ending list with his hometown of Ashland.
"Thanksto all you folks," Anderson said to mission controllers today from space. "It'smy hope and my prayer that the station will get bigger and the science will getbigger and better a lot faster than we've experienced so far."
Prior todeparting the ISS, Anderson welcomed Tani onto the space station by playing"Danny Boy" by Bing Crosby. Crewmembers swayed in time with theclassic tune.
"Welcomeaboard, Dan-o," Anderson said to Tani, giving him a bear hug.
Tani told SPACE.comin September that he expects to live on the space station until mid-December,when he will switch place with French astronaut Leopold Eyharts of space shuttleAtlantis' STS-122 crew.
"Ifthey hold the schedule, I come home for Christmas and that's a big bonus,"Tani said, noting that space station crewmembers generally stay longer thanscheduled due to oft-delayed shuttle launches.
As thenewest member of the Expedition 16 crew, Tani performed a spacewalk with Scott Parazynski just one day after arriving to add the newHarmony module.
The31,500-pound (14,288-kilogram) module, also known as Node 2, added about 2,666cubic feet (75.4 cubic meters) to the space station. As future space shuttlemissions ferry up new European and Japanese modules, the node will serve as avital supply-delivering hub.
The STS-122mission will deliver the European Space Agency's (ESA) Columbus module, whichthey'll use to conduct zero-gravity science experiments.
LaBrodesaid Discovery hauled up 33,834 pounds (15,347 kilograms) of equipment andsupplies--including Harmony and a spare electronics box--and took 2,020 pounds (916 kilograms) ofsupplies home.
"Allin all we added, to the station, 31,814 pounds," LaBrode said."Pretty impressive."
Afterundocking tomorrow, Discovery's pilot and commander will perform a 360-degreefly-around of the space station at about 6:01 a.m. EST (1101 GMT). The maneuver is used to document the construction progress and safety of the space station.
Later on, astronautswill scope out the underbelly of the space shuttle with its orbital boom sensorsystem, or OBSS, that was used to transport Parazynski to the torn solar wing duringSaturday's spacewalk.
Mission managers feared that the extensionboom's more than nine hours of unheated use in the brutal cold of space mightdamage electronics. LaBrode said the OBSS experienced errors in one of four sensorpackages, but could not say if the boom's abnormal use caused the glitch.
"Thisis a symptom they've seen before," LaBrode said of NASA engineers'experience with the problem. "All of the sensors that are required for tomorrow'slate inspection are fully operational."
Just afterclosing the hatches between Discovery and the ISS, Anderson noted a ding inone of the shuttle's thick windows caused by amicrometeorite. Mission controllers told Anderson to send down images ofthe strike area.
NASAexpects the wayward space shuttle crew to touch down at Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday, Nov. 7, giving the crew 16 days in the zero-gravity environment ofspace. It will be the 34th complete mission for Discovery.
SPACE.com staffwriter TariqMalik contributed to this story.
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