June 11, 2008

Discovery Crew Bids Farewell To Space Station

The shuttle Discovery's nine-day mission to deliver a Japanese-made orbital research laboratory came to an end Tuesday as astronauts said goodbye to the International Space Station crew.

"I can hardly believe this time has come. It's been an amazing adventure," said astronaut Greg Chamitoff, who is staying behind on the station for six months. "I'm looking forward to the adventure ahead."

Chamitoff replaces station flight engineer Garrett Reisman, who has been in orbit since March.

"I managed not to break anything really expensive," Reisman joked as the crews gathered for a farewell ceremony.

"The station really is something straight out of science fiction. When you take a look around it's just really impressive that we've pulled this off," he said.

Japan's 37-foot long Kibo laboratory will give the astronauts more than enough room to move around.

"There's actually enough space so that you can lose people. You can go from stem to stern trying to find somebody and not find them. That's how big this place is," Reisman said.

The space shuttle Discovery, where Reisman, six U.S. astronauts and Japan's Akihiko Hoshide will spend the next three days isn't quite as roomy.

The shuttle is scheduled to depart the station on Wednesday and land at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Saturday.

The crew plans to use a laser-studded boom to scour their ship's wings and nose cap for damage as well as test the Discovery's landing gear before they set off.

The inspection normally is conducted the day after launch, but Discovery's payload bay was so full there was no room for the boom.

The astronauts retrieved an inspection boom that had been left behind on the station by the last shuttle crew. NASA implemented the inspections as a safety check following the 2003 Columbia disaster.

Discovery's cargo bay now has plenty of room for the 50-foot long boom. The 32-ton Kibo module was attached to the station and outfitted by the Discovery crew. Next year, a crew will add an external platform on Kibo for telescopes and science experiments.

NASA has nine more flights to complete assembly and resupply of the station by 2010, when the shuttle fleet is due to be retired.

In October, the agency also plans a final servicing call to the Hubble Space Telescope.


Image Caption: Space shuttle Discovery performs a flyaround of the International Space Station after undocking. Photo Credit: NASA TV


On the Net:

NASA Shuttle Mission