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Shuttle Crew Prepares to Leave Space Station

Shuttle Crew Prepares to Leave Space Station
STS-123 mission specialists Takao Doi, of Japan, Robert Behnken (top left) and Mike Foreman, both of NASA, pose for a photograph aboard their Endeavour shuttle while at the ISS. (Image credit: NASA.)

Thisstory was updated at 12:45 p.m. EDT.

HOUSTON -Astronauts aboard NASA?s shuttle Endeavour will rest and pack up theirspacecraft today for the trip back to Earth after delivering a new room androbot to the International Space Station (ISS).

Shuttlecommander Dominic Gorieand his six crewmates are taking a half-day off at the space station thisEaster Sunday before stowing away tools and moving the last bits of cargo betweenEndeavour and the orbiting lab.

?It?s goingto be a beautiful day up here and I hope it is there as well,? Gorie told MissionControl as his crew ended their orbital day in space early this morning. ?We?retrying to convince the station into an Easter egg hunt with some M & Ms,but so far they?re not up for tossing around a bunch of those.?

Endeavourand its crew are currently slated to undock from the space station Monday nightat 7:56 p.m. EDT (2356 GMT) after 12 days - the longest docked time yet for aNASA shuttle - of intense orbital construction work.

?It?scertainly a well-deserved rest for the crew,? said Dana Weigel, NASA?s lead station flightdirector, in an early morning briefing here at the Johnson Space Center.

Duringtheir stay, shuttle astronauts constructed a Canadian-built maintenancerobot called Dextre,installed an attic-like storage module for Japan?s massive Kibo station lab and ferried a newcrewmember to the ISS. The 10 astronauts aboard the station and Endeavour willdiscuss their mission with reporters on Earth during a joint crew conferencetonight at 11:18 p.m. EDT (0318 March 24 GMT).

NASAastronaut Garrett Reisman,who launchedaboard Endeavour on March 11, is staying aboard the station to replaceFrench astronaut Leopold Eyharts, who will return to Earth with the shuttle?screw. Eyharts is wrapping up just over a month at the station commissioning theEuropean Space Agency?s Columbus laboratory that was installed last month.

?It?samazing how big station is,? Reismansaid during the flight, adding that the outpost?s interior is about the size ofa Boeing 767 jet. ?It?s so big, you actually have to plan how you carry yourstuff around because if you have to go back and get something it takes time.?

Endeavour?sSTS-123 crew performed five spacewalks during their mission, setting a newrecord for a single shuttle flight to the ISS. The spaceflyers are due tocomplete their planned 16-day mission with a landing at NASA?s Kennedy SpaceCenter in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Wednesday evening at 7:04 p.m. EDT (2304 GMT).

?We?ve beenso busy that we haven?t seen a lot of the Earth going by,? Gorie said earlier in the flight.

In additionto the Japanesemodule and Dextrerobot, the spaceflyers also primed the station to receive its next visiting shuttle- NASA?s Discovery orbiter - in late May by attaching Endeavour?sheat shield inspection boom orbiting lab?s exterior on Saturday.

Discoveryis slated to launch on May 25 with the primary experiment module for Japan?sthree-segment Kibolaboratory, an orbital room so large it takes up the entire shuttle bay andleaves no room for its own inspection boom, mission managers said.

Engineerson Earth gave Endeavour?s heat shield a clean bill of health late Saturday,clearing the spacecraft for its planned Wednesday landing.

Latertoday, Gorieand his crew will pack up their spacewalking tools and other equipment inpreparation for their departure late Monday. The astronauts will also transferlast minute experiment samples to Endeavour, suchas tiny seedlings grown by Eyharts in a European experiment to understandhow weightlessness affects plants.

MissionControl here at NASA?s Johnson Space Center roused Endeavour?s crew at 12:28 p.m.EDT (1628 GMT) with the Newsboys song ?I Am Free,? a tune chosen specificallyfor mission specialist Mike Foreman and performed by his church?s praise team.

?Goodmorning, Endeavour and Happy Easter to you Mike,? NASA astronaut Alvin Drewradioed up from Mission Control.

?Goodmorning, Houston and thanks Alvin, that?s one of my favorite songs fromchurch,? Foreman said. ?That was awesome, and how appropriate for this specialday. It sounds just as good up here as it does down there. Happy Easter.?

Drew wishedthe rest of Endeavour?s astronauts a Happy Easter as well, though they werebusy at the time.

?They?reprobably searching for their eggs,? Foreman said.

NASA isbroadcasting Endeavour's STS-123 mission live on NASA TV. Click here for'sshuttle mission coverage and NASA TV feed.


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Tariq Malik
Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter.