Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Atlantis departs space station to end week's stay

Hooks and latches have undone to gently push shuttle Atlantis away from its International Space Station docking port, starting a two-day journey home to Florida for seven astronauts.

With pilot Barry Wilmore at the controls, the shuttle began slowly backing away from Pressurized Mating Adapter-2 at the station's Harmony node at 4:53 a.m. EST.

"Houston and station, physical separation," commander Charlie Hobaugh radioed, as the station flew 216 miles over the Pacific Ocean northeast of New Guinea.

"See you on the ground," he told station commander Jeff Williams.

"You bet," Williams replied. "Bon voyage."

Atlantis was docked to the station for a total of six days, 17 hours and two minutes.

Once reaching a distance of about 400 feet, Wilmore will guide the shuttle in a revolution around the outpost from a distance of 600 to 700 feet.

Crews inside both vehicles will snap pictures of the other spacecraft to help catalogue its condition.

Just before undocking, Atlantis mission specilast Nicole Stott, who spent 87 days as a station flight engineer on Expeditions 20 and 21, bid farewell to the station crew she was leaving behind.

"I just wanted to say again it was a real pleasure working with you guys," she radioed. "I was blessed with our wonderful crew, and I look forward to seeing you on the ground real soon."

"And we were as equally blessed having you on board with us," Williams replied. "We'll miss you, but we're happy for you that you're now returning to your family. Thank you for a great mission again."

"Nicole, have a safe trip home," said Frank De Winne, who on Tuesday handed command of the station over to Williams, an American. "This was a real pleasure. Thank you."

"Bye, Nicole, be safe," added Canadain Bob Thirsk.

"United States space shuttle Atlantis and International Space Station crew member Nicole Stott departing," Williams said a few minutes later.

Following tradition, he rang a ship's bell as the shuttle pulled away.

Click here to open a NASA TV video player and watch the shuttle's departure and a flyaround of the station.

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