July 28, 2009

Shuttle Endeavour leaves space station

The U.S. space shuttle Endeavour left the International Space Station Tuesday afternoon to begin a three-day trip home after 11 days of linked flight.

The shuttle undocked from the massive orbiting laboratory at 1:26 p.m. EDT, NASA said.

The departure ended history's biggest orbiting crew -- 13 people together in low earth orbit, including, for the first time, two Canadians in space together.

Endeavour and its seven astronauts are scheduled to land in NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida Friday, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said.

The weather forecast calls for partly sunny skies with a thunderstorm possible.

Before attempting to land, the crew will inspect the shuttle to make sure the thermal shielding is not pierced by small particles of meteoroid rock or orbital debris created by humans.

During their shared mission, the shuttle and space station crews improved and expanded the space station. They installed a porchlike structure for harsh-space experiments on Japan's science lab and plugged in fresh batteries.

The shuttle also delivered U.S. astronaut Tim Kopra, the newest crew member, to the six-person space station team. He replaces Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Koichi Wakata, who was aboard the station since March and is now aboard Endeavour.

The crews also shared the unexpected inconvenience of a flooded toilet.