Shuttle Astronauts to Leave Space Station Today

Shuttle Astronauts to Leave Space Station Today
This scene, showing the forward section of the space shuttle Discovery while docked with the International Space Station, was photographed by a spacewalking astronauts during the STS-128 mission's third spacewalk on Sept. 5, 2009.
(Image: © NASA.)

Spaceshuttle astronauts will bid farewell to the International Space Station Tuesdayand begin the trip home after more than a week linked tothe orbiting laboratory.

The shuttleDiscovery is due to undock from the space station today at 3:26 p.m. EDT (1926GMT) to end about nine days at the orbiting laboratory. The shuttle?s sevenastronauts delivered tons of supplies and newscience gear, as well as a new crewmember for the space station?s crew.

?It?s beena really amazing experience working up here on the International Space Station,with 13 people working together as a big team,? Discovery astronaut ChristerFuglesang of Sweden told Mission Control early Tuesday.

OnceDiscovery undocks from the station, shuttle pilot Kevin Ford will fly thespacecraft on a victory lap of sorts around the orbiting lab while hiscrewmates take photographs. The maneuver, known as a fly-around, is used todocument the current state of the station.

Beforeflight, Ford said he was eagerly looking forward to flying Discovery around thestation, but it will be a bit different today. Discovery?s small maneuvering thrustershave been offline since the shuttle launched due to a leaky thruster. Ford willrely on the shuttle?s larger thrusters for the shuttle?s departure, somethingastronauts have trained for.

?I want tosay only to have a safe trip and have a safe flight back,? station commanderGennady Padalka, a Russian cosmonaut, told Discovery?s crew late Monday.

Skywatchersin the United States and southern Canada will have several opportunities,weather permitting, to spot theshuttle and space station as they fly overhead. The best opportunities runthrough Wednesday.

Station stockedup on science

Discovery launchedto the station Aug. 28 on a 13-day mission to deliver new supplies andscience experiments. Three spacewalks were performed to retrieve oldexperiments from the station?s hull, replace a massive coolant tank and tend tosome other maintenance tasks.

Altogether,the astronauts delivered 18,548 pounds (8,413 kg) of supplies to the spacestation and are returning about 5,223 pounds (2,369 kg) of trash and surplusitems back to Earth.

The nearly11-year-old space station is now 84 percent complete, has an internal livingspace equivalent to the cabin of a jumbo jet, and weighs about 720,000 pounds (326,586kg).

The astronautsalso delivered a $5 million treadmill named after TVcomedian Stephen Colbert.

Colbert won the naming rights for a new spacestation room in an online NASA poll earlier this year, but the space agencynamed the module Tranquility - the Apollo 11 moon base - to honor the 40th anniversaryof the first manned moon landing. NASA named the new station treadmill the Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill, or COLBERT, as a consolation prize.

Thetreadmill launched in more than 100 pieces but won?t be assembled until later, afterDiscovery leaves and a new Japanesecargo ship arrives at the station in mid-September.

The shuttlealso ferried NASA astronaut Nicole Stott to the space station to join theorbiting laboratory?s six-person crew. Stott is beginning a three-month space missionand replaced fellow astronaut Tim Kopra, who has lived aboard the station fornearly two months and will return home aboard Discovery.

Kopra hassaid that he?s looking forward to seeing his family again, and perhaps takinghis first sip of beer in months after he lands. But the space station, headded, has secured a permanent place in his heart.

?I?m goingto miss this place,? Kopra said Sunday in a televised interview. ?I?m going tomiss the beautiful views, the sunsets and sunrises.?

Discoveryis due to land Thursday evening at NASA?s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

SPACE.comis providing complete coverage of Discovery's STS-128 mission to theInternational Space Station with Managing Editor Tariq Malik and Staff WriterClara Moskowitz in New York. Clickhere for shuttle mission updates and a link to NASA TV.

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