June 10, 2008

Astronauts Bid Emotional Farewell to Station Crew

The seven astronauts of NASA's shuttle Discovery bid an emotional farewell to
the three-man crew of the International Space Station (ISS) Tuesday after more
than a week of construction work to install the orbiting lab's largest room.

commander Mark Kelly and his crew said goodbye to the space station astronauts with
wide smiles and hugs before shutting the hatches between their two
spacecraft. The shuttle is due to undock from the station Wednesday at 7:42
a.m. EDT (1142 GMT) and land Saturday.

"These guys
performed wonderfully," said station commander Sergei Volkov. "We're glad to
work with you guys and thank you."

docked at the space station on June 2 to deliver Japan's massive, billion-dollar
Kibo laboratory
during three spacewalks. About the size of a large tour
bus, Japan's 37-foot (11-meter) research module is the second of three massive
components that make up its Kibo science facility. A porch-like external platform
for experiments and a small robotic arm are slated to be added to Kibo next

The shuttle
crew attached the Kibo lab's attic-like
storage module
and tested out its main 33-foot (10-meter) robotic arm
during their mission. The astronauts also ferried a new crew member to the space
station - NASA spaceflyer Gregory Chamitoff.

"I can
hardly believe this time has come, it's been an amazing adventure," said
Chamitoff, his voice quavering at times, as he said farewell to Kelly and his
shuttle crewmates. "I wanted to say that a lot of us were rookies before this
flight and it's been a real honor and privilege to be part of the shuttle crew."

one of five first-time flyers who launched
aboard Discovery
on May 31, is replacing NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman as
a member of the station's Expedition 17 crew. He is beginning a planned
six-month mission while Reisman, who arrived at the station in March, is
wrapping 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 spaceflight
has gone amazingly well.

"It's really
been a wonderful mission," Abbott said Tuesday in a briefing here at NASA's Johnson
Space Center. "I couldn't be more proud of this team and this crew for what
they've been able to accomplish."

Once the
shuttle undocks Wednesday, Kelly and his crew are expected to make a detailed
scan of their spacecraft's heat shield panels. Discovery launched without the
now-standard heat shield inspection boom because the nearly
16-ton Kibo lab
was simply too big. Wednesday's scan, which follows earlier
photographic and video inspections using Discovery's robotic arm, is expected
to help engineers clear the shuttle for its planned Saturday landing.

Reisman assured
Chamitoff he'd do a great job as the sole American member of the station's
U.S.-Russian crew, quipping that it's a great responsibility to take care of
such a tremendous international asset.

"It was not
a perfect performance by myself by any means, but I managed not to break
anything really expensive," Reisman said. "And I'm leaving now with the station
in good hands, and a tremendous feeling of satisfaction."

broadcasting the planned launch of Discovery's STS-124 mission live on NASA TV
on Saturday. Click here for
SPACE.com's shuttle mission updates and NASA TV feed.