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Astronauts Allowed Extra Hour of Sleep

September 16, 2006

HOUSTON – The crew of space shuttle Atlantis got to sleep in Saturday and take a half day off after a jam-packed week in orbit that included three arduous but successful spacewalks.

The six astronauts relished it “” especially the surprise one-hour delay in their morning wake-up call.

“We’ve been very, very busy so the chance to sleep in was very much appreciated,” rookie astronaut Heidimarie Stefanyshyn-Piper said during a news conference from space.

They awoke to the mellow beach-evoking sounds of Jimmy Buffett’s “Twelve Volt Man.”

Astronaut Dan Burbank, whose family sent up the song, called it “a great way to start a day up here in space.”

Piper said she and her crewmates spent their time off touring the international space station, taking pictures and “getting the opportunity to look out the window.”

Time off is important, said Dr. Sean Roden, chief of medical operations for the international space station.

“Orbit operations are similar to high-complexity, task-oriented environments such as commercial aviation or maritime operations,” Roden said in an e-mail. “Crew duty time off is critical to ensure a safe work environment.”

The crew’s 11-day mission has been a success, installing a 17 1/2-ton addition on the international space station. Even though their work looked simple, the three spacewalks “were not easy,” astronaut Joe Tanner told CBS News.

The crew planned to move gear into and out of the space station Saturday. Atlantis is set to leave the space station Sunday at 8:50 a.m. EDT.

After undocking Sunday, Atlantis will fly around the space station and take the first full-circle video of the newly reconfigured facility with its new solar power arrays, said lead flight director Paul Dye.

“I just think it’s going to be gorgeous: those beautiful gold arrays, the Earth in the background,” Dye said Saturday.

The few hours astronauts get as time off are precious, not just to rest, but to experience the personal side of weightlessness, space and the cosmos, said Story Musgrave, one of        NASA’s most experienced flyers.

“You get to explore space and you get to do things that if you are busy you don’t get to do,” the six-time shuttle veteran said. “Getting to the window is one.”

Musgrave said that on every one of his flights he would take a black book with 120 things he hoped to do to on his own, including looking for auroras, rainbows and the Great Wall of China.

And that’s just looking downward at Earth. Musgrave said astronauts should also look upward to see galaxies.

“That’s part of human spaceflight and you have to go get that,” he said. “The play is very serious stuff if you’re a serious explorer.”

On the Net:

NASA: http://www.nasa.gov




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