HOUSTON —The seven astronauts of NASA?s shuttle Discovery bid an emotional farewell tothe three-man crew of the International Space Station (ISS) Tuesday after morethan a week of construction work to install the orbiting lab?s largest room.
Discoverycommander Mark Kelly and his crew said goodbye to the space station astronauts withwide smiles and hugs before shutting the hatches between their twospacecraft. The shuttle is due to undock from the station Wednesday at 7:42a.m. EDT (1142 GMT) and land Saturday.
?These guysperformed wonderfully,? said station commander Sergei Volkov. ?We?re glad towork with you guys and thank you.?
Discoverydocked at the space station on June 2 to deliver Japan?s massive, billion-dollarKibo laboratory during three spacewalks. About the size of a large tourbus, Japan?s 37-foot (11-meter) research module is the second of three massivecomponents that make up its Kibo science facility. A porch-like external platformfor experiments and a small robotic arm are slated to be added to Kibo nextyear.
The shuttlecrew attached the Kibo lab?s attic-likestorage module and tested out its main 33-foot (10-meter) robotic armduring their mission. The astronauts also ferried a new crew member to the spacestation - NASA spaceflyer Gregory Chamitoff.
?I canhardly believe this time has come, it?s been an amazing adventure,? saidChamitoff, his voice quavering at times, as he said farewell to Kelly and hisshuttle crewmates. ?I wanted to say that a lot of us were rookies before thisflight and it?s been a real honor and privilege to be part of the shuttle crew.?
Chamitoff,one of five first-time flyers who launchedaboard Discovery on May 31, is replacing NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman asa member of the station?s Expedition 17 crew. He is beginning a plannedsix-month mission while Reisman, who arrived at the station in March, iswrapping up his own three-month stay.
?One day,this would all be over, and that day is now,? Reisman said.
Matt Abbott,NASA?s lead shuttle flight director for Discovery?s STS-124 mission, said the spaceflighthas gone amazingly well.
?It?s reallybeen a wonderful mission,? Abbott said Tuesday in a briefing here at NASA?s JohnsonSpace Center. ?I couldn?t be more proud of this team and this crew for whatthey?ve been able to accomplish.?
Once theshuttle undocks Wednesday, Kelly and his crew are expected to make a detailedscan of their spacecraft?s heat shield panels. Discovery launched without thenow-standard heat shield inspection boom because the nearly16-ton Kibo lab was simply too big. Wednesday?s scan, which follows earlierphotographic and video inspections using Discovery?s robotic arm, is expectedto help engineers clear the shuttle for its planned Saturday landing.
Reisman assuredChamitoff he?d do a great job as the sole American member of the station?sU.S.-Russian crew, quipping that it?s a great responsibility to take care ofsuch a tremendous international asset.
?It was nota perfect performance by myself by any means, but I managed not to breakanything really expensive,? Reisman said. ?And I?m leaving now with the stationin good hands, and a tremendous feeling of satisfaction.?
NASA isbroadcasting Discovery's STS-124 mission live on NASA TVon Saturday. Click here forSPACE.com's shuttle mission updates and NASA TV feed.
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