Visiting astronauts bid farewell to space station

Mon Mar 24, 2008 7:36pm EDT
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By Irene Klotz

HOUSTON (Reuters) - With hugs and handshakes, the space shuttle Endeavour astronauts said good-bye to the crew of the International Space Station on Monday and prepared to take off for home after delivering a piece of Japan's first space laboratory.

Hatches between the two spaceships were closed at about 5:30 p.m. EDT, ending a 12-day stay that prepared the space station to receive its biggest, and possibly last, laboratory.

Endeavour carried a Canadian robot and a new crew member to the orbital outpost in addition to a storage chamber for Japan's elaborate Kibo complex. The main part of the lab, a 37-foot-long, tour bus-sized module, is due to launch aboard shuttle Discovery on May 25.

"We had a great time here," Endeavour commander Dominic Gorie told the station crew. "It's a strange feeling to want to see your families but not want to leave a wonderful place."

Staying behind is astronaut Garrett Reisman, who replaced returning French astronaut Leopold Eyharts. Reisman will return with Discovery's crew in June.

"It's hard for me to believe that it's already finished," said Eyharts, who arrived last month to oversee setup of Europe's new Columbus laboratory.

Endeavour pilot Greg Johnson was scheduled to slip the shuttle out of its docking berth shortly before 8 p.m. EDT as the ships sailed 215 miles over Ireland.

The crew has a chance to admire their handiwork during a lap around the station before Johnson fires Endeavour's steering jets to begin the voyage back to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.   Continued...

<p>Rick Linnehan pats Garrett Reisman on the head during the farewell ceremony from aboard the International Space Station with the crews of the shuttle Endeavour and the ISS (L-R) Dominic Gorie, Mike Foreman, Takao Doi, Gregory Johnson, Leopold Eyeharts, Robert Behnken, Yuri Malenchenko and Peggy Whitson in this image from NASA TV March 24, 2008. REUTERS/NASA TV.</p>