May 30, 2011

Endeavour Sets Course For Final Return To Earth

Endeavour undocked from the International Space Station at 10:55 p.m. CDT Sunday, ending a stay of 11 days, 17 hours and 41 minutes at the orbiting laboratory.

"Endeavour departing," said Expedition 28 Flight Engineer Ron Garan after the traditional ringing of the station's bell. "Fair winds and following seas."

Pilot Greg Johnson, at the aft flight deck controls, flew Endeavour in a circle around the station at distances of about 450 to 650 feet. Crew members took still and video images of the station.

As Johnson was about to begin the flyaround, Commander Mark Kelly radioed mission control that he could see the $2 billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer particle physics detector Endeavour had brought to orbit. "It's a new day for science on the space station," he said to mission control.

After the flyaround and a separation burn, Kelly took the controls for a test of an automated rendezvous and docking system called STORRM, for Sensor Test for Orion Relative Navigation Risk Mitigation. Endeavour moved about 20,000 feet above and behind the station, then to a point below and behind it.

Kelly subsequently maneuvered the shuttle on a rendezvous-like course, winding up at a point about 950 feet below the station. There the shuttle did a separation burn, beginning its departure from the area with the STORRM sensors still tracking the station until contact was lost. Initial reports were that the test had produced good data. All Endeavour crew members, including Mission Specialists Mike Fincke, Roberto Vittori, Drew Feustel and Greg Chamitoff, were scheduled for almost four hours of STORRM work.

In addition to the AMS, Endeavour left a substantial cargo carrier with spare parts on the outside of the station. It also delivered equipment and supplies to the station's interior. Shuttle crew members did four maintenance and installation spacewalks and considerable maintenance work inside the station.

This flight, Endeavour's last, is its 26th. Twelve of its missions have taken it to the station (and on one flight it visited the Russian space station Mir). The 12 missions are among 36 visits to the orbiting laboratory by shuttles. Orbiters have spent a total of almost 268 days docked there.

Back at the station Expedition 28 Commander Andrey Borisenko and Flight Engineers Alexander Samokutyaev and Garan are getting some extra rest and shifting back to their regular schedule.

Endeavour is scheduled to land at Kennedy Space Center at 1:35 a.m. on Wednesday.


Image Caption: A video camera on the exterior of the International Space Station captured this image of space shuttle Endeavour a little less than an hour after the two spacecraft undocked. Photo credit: NASA TV


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