President Obama Calls Astronauts on Shuttle, Station

President Obama Calls Astronauts on Shuttle, Station
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks to the shuttle and station crew members on March 24, 2009 during the STS-119 mission. (Image credit: White House/Pete Souza)

This story was updated at 12:24 p.m. EDT.

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Astronauts aboard the shuttle Discoveryand International Space Station received an orbital call from U.S. PresidentBarack Obama Tuesday to congratulate them on a job well done to boost theorbiting laboratory to full power.

?The first thing we want to do is just to let you know howproud we are of you,? the president told the spaceflyers. ?We are extremelyexcited about the project that you?re doing.?

The 10 astronauts aboard the docked Discovery and spacestation have spent the last week installingnew solar arrays to complete the outpost?s power grid and metallicbackbone, with the shuttle crew set to depart on Wednesday. President Obamacalled them from the Roosevelt Room in the White House and said their efforts arevery timely for people back on Earth and the U.S.

?We?re investing, back here on the ground, in a whole arrayof solar and other renewable energy products, so to find out that you?re doingthis up at the space station is particularly exciting,? the president said.

While he was proud of the American astronauts aboard thestation and shuttle, the president said he was encouraged by the feat ofinternational cooperation behind thespace station and its multi-national crew, which now includes astronautsfrom the U.S., Russia and Japan.

?This really symbolizes the future of the scientificdevelopment of the world and I?m just happy to be part of it,? said Japaneseastronaut Koichi Wakata, Japan?sfirst long-term resident of the space station who arrived aboard Discovery.

President Obama said he was especially pleased to speak tothe spaceflyers since one of them, NASA astronaut Sandra Magnus, was fromBellwood in his state of Illinois. He asked Magnus, who is finishing afour-month mission aboard the station, if she ever felt tempted to cut her longhair, which billowed out around her in weightlessness.

?I think ideally a short haircut is the way to go, butfrankly on me it wouldn?t be so nice, so I kept it long,? Magnus answered.

?I think it?s a real fashion statement,? the president said.

President Obama was joined by Congressional leaders andschoolchildren as he spoke to Discovery and station astronauts. At times hetook questions from the students for the astronauts on subjects ranging fromhow many stars they could see in space to their daily menu and exercise plans.

Shuttle skipper Lee Archambault said he and his crew werehonored to speak with the president, while station commander Michael Finckesaid the space station has been a tangible example of internationalcooperation.

?It?s pretty impressive what human beings can do when worktogether constructively and not destructively, and that?s what our mission isat the International Space Station,? Fincke said. ?Thanks for flying with us.?

Astronauts rest up

Discovery and station astronauts plan to discusstheir 13-day mission to deliver solar arrays and a new crewmember to thestation with reporters later today. They will also move some cargo betweentheir two ships before settling into some free time before they head home.

?It?s important for us to rest up, the orbiter crew [in] particular,since in just a few days from now they?re going to have to successfully executea re-entry and landing,? Kwatsi Alibaruho, NASA?s lead station flight directorfor the flight, told reporters late Monday from Houston. ?They?ve had a lot oftime off coming to them.?

Discovery will undock from the station Wednesday at 3:53p.m. EDT (1953 GMT), just one day before a Russian Soyuz spacecraft is poisedto blast off from the Central Asian spaceport of Baikonor Cosmodrome with a newcrew and Americanbillionaire Charles Simonyi - who is paying more than $30 million for hissecond trip to space. The Soyuz will arrive at the space station on Saturday,the same day Discovery is due to land in Florida.

Discovery?s crew performed three spacewalks to install thestation?s fourth and final set of solar wings to complete the space station?spower grid. The arrays are moored to a 16-ton girder that, when mounted to thestarboard edge of the station, completed the orbiting lab?s backbone-like maintruss. After more than a decade of construction, the station is now 81 percentcomplete, longer than a football field and weighs nearly 1 million pounds.

The shuttle astronauts also delivered a spare part for thespace station?s urine recycler, which filters astronaut urine back into purewater for drinking, food preparation, bathing and other uses. The recyclingsystem had been broken since last December, but appears to be working wellafter the repairs.

?Overall we?re absolutely thrilled and we?re very happy thatwe were able to accomplish what we did,? Alibaruho said. ?We certainlyaccomplished our highest priority objectives, and certainly the ones that wewere most concerned about were executed flawlessly without problems.? is providing continuous coverage of STS-119with reporter Clara Moskowitz and senior editor Tariq Malik in New York. Click here for missionupdates and's live NASA TV video feed.

  • Video - Discovery's Mission: Space Station Power Up!
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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. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. 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. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.