Astronauts Celebrate After Marathon Work
The Endeavour astronauts celebrated their successful efforts to expand the international space station late Sunday, as they prepared to end a marathon visit to the orbital outpost.
The shuttle’s seven astronauts are scheduled to depart the station on Monday, shortly before 7 p.m. CDT, after delivering the first piece of a Japanese science laboratory and a Canadian robotic handyman.
Endeavour commander Dom Gorie compared the whirlwind pace of assembly activities since the shuttle docked on March 12 to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship tournament, or March Madness.
The shuttle crew’s visit included five spacewalks.
“It’s wonderful to be in the tournament. We’ve won five games, and we got a couple more to get to the finals,” Gorie told a news conference with the 10 astronauts aboard the two spacecraft. “Every spacewalk was a win. We got a couple of more to go, the undocking and the landing. But we have a great winning team.”
After their departure, the shuttle astronauts will prepare for Endeavour’s return to Earth. The shuttle’s touchdown at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida is scheduled for 6:04 p.m. CDT Wednesday, ending a 16-day voyage, the longest shuttle assembly mission to the space station to date.
The weather outlook is favorable.
Over the weekend, mission managers cleared Endeavour’s heat shield for landing based on the damage inspection conducted by the astronauts on Friday, said NASA flight director Kwatsi Alibaruho.
The module delivered by Endeavour’s crew cemented Japan’s participation in the space station alongside the United States, Russia, Canada and an alliance of European nations.
The storage compartment is scheduled to be joined in late May by a larger Japanese enclosure in which astroanuts can carry out a range of physics and biology experiments. The final piece of the Japanese hardware, an external experiment platform, will be launched in early 2009.
“We have seen some incredible changes on the station, and it’s been a real privelege to be here and see that,” said Peggy Whitson, the space station’s commander.
The five spacewalks conducted during Endeavour’s stay match the most accomplished on a single shuttle mission. Three of the outings were devoted to the assembly of Dextre, a Canadian robot that was parked outside the station’s American laboratory module.
The 12-foot-tall robot was developed to take on some of the spacewalking maintenance tasks usually assigned to the astronauts. NASA has not decided when the robot will make a debut.
Endeavour leaves behind American Garrett Reisman , who takes the place of French astronaut Leopold Eyharts as a station resident. Eyharts arrived in February aboard the shuttle Atlantis with the European Columbus science module.
Reisman will remain on the station until June, when he will ride back to Earth aboard the shuttle Discovery.
Whitson and Russian Yuri Malenchenko are nearing the end of a six-month tour of duty. They’re due back on Earth April 18, when their Russian Soyuz spacecraft descends into remote Kazakhstan.
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