March 25, 2009

Shuttle Discovery Departs From Space Station

Crewmembers from the space shuttle Discovery left the International Space Station on Wednesday following an eight-day visit to make new installations to the orbiting outpost.

Discovery and the space station closed their respective hatches at 1:59 p.m. EDT, marking the end of the STS-119 mission, NASA said.

Shuttle astronauts took part in three spacewalks over the course of their visit to the space station. They completed the installation of the final pair of solar wings to the space station, in order to nearly double the amount of power onboard the ISS so that more crewmembers will be able to board the laboratory for longer periods of time.

The new set of 115-foot wings was successfully unfurled on Friday, bringing the total number to eight attached to the space station.

"This is the toughest part of the mission, at least for me," station commander Mike Fincke told the Discovery crew. "It was really great having you up here."

"You've made the space station much better than it was before," said Fincke.

"You gave us more power, symmetry "” which is not to be underrated "” and you gave us a new crew member."

Koichi Wakata arrived aboard Discover to replace NASA astronaut Sandra Magnus. Wakata became the first Japanese crewmember aboard the International Space Station. He will soon be joined by commander Gennady Padalka, flight engineer Michael Barratt and second-time space tourist Charles Simonyi. The next crew is expected to launch aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket on Thursday.

Another Soyuz rocket is expected to launch in May with the first members of the expanded crew.

Discovery is carrying back five months' worth of experiments including blood urine and saliva samples as well as four to five liters of recycled water from astronauts' urine and sweat.

NASA will analyze the recycled water to ensure it is safe for space station astronauts to drink.

Discovery is expected to reach the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Saturday, NASA said.


Image Caption: Expedition 18 Commander Mike Fincke (right) and Flight Engineer Koichi Wakata close the hatch door. Photo credit: NASA TV


On the Net: