Discovery’s crew – including the first crew of the International Space Station now returning home after four and a half months in orbit – bids farewell to the second station crew tonight, undocking the shuttle from the outpost and preparing for a return to Earth Tuesday.
The hatches between the shuttle and station were to be closed for a final time at about 7:30 tonight, leaving Expedition Two Commander Yury Usachev and his Flight Engineers, astronauts Jim Voss and Susan Helms, aboard the complex. The second crew is beginning a four-month stay aboard the station that will see the complex continue to grow in research capability and self-sufficiency as a robotic arm, more experiments and a new airlock are attached on future missions.
The first station expedition crew – led by Commander Bill Shepherd with Pilot Yuri Gidzenko and Flight Engineer Sergei Krikalev – is returning home after having brought the complex to life during its stay. The Expedition One crew docked to an uninhabited station that was about half the size and had only a fraction of the capability of the orbiting science complex and permanent home they are departing. The crews bid one another farewell about an hour before the hatch closing.
“We are on a true space ‘ship’ now, making her way above any Earthly boundary,” Shepherd said as he handed command to Usachev.
“This ship was not built in a safe harbor but on the high seas,” Discovery Commander Jim Wetherbee added.
During the almost nine days Discovery has been docked at the station, the crews unloaded almost five tons of experiments and equipment and repacked almost a ton of returning items. Discovery’s mission also has set the stage for the continued expansion of the station when a Canadian robotic arm is launched aboard the shuttle Endeavour next month. Pilot Jim Kelly will be at the shuttle’s helm as Discovery undocks from the station tonight, planned to occur at 10:32 p.m. Kelly will guide Discovery in an hour-long station flyaround where he will circle the station one and a quarter times, 450 feet away, while the crew records television and photos of the exterior.
The next Mission Control Center status report will be issued early Monday morning.
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