Monday, May 30, 2011

Endeavour bids final farewell to station

After a final flirtation with the International Space Station, Endeavour is on its way home.

Commander Mark Kelly and pilot Greg Johnson successfully navigated the orbiter to a second approach of the outpost -- pulling within 950 feet -- hours after undocking late Sunday.

"We're back," said Kelly.

"All right! Did you bring more ice cream?" replied Expedition 28 flight engineer Ron Garan.

"Nah, you got all of that," said Kelly.

The "re-rendezvous" tested experimental sensors intended to provide automated rendezvous and docking capability for future spacecraft.

Endeavour approached on a trajectory that mimicked what an Orion-like crew vehicle would fly.

NASA said the test successfully collected data and went "pretty much by the book."

Endeavour was shrouded in darkness during its closest approach, with only its payload bay outlined by lights that receded as the orbiter distanced itself again.

At 4:38 a.m. EDT, nose and tail steering jets fired to separate Endeavour from the space station for the last time.

Endeavour is making its 25th and final flight, the second-to-last before NASA retires the shuttle program after 135 missions.

Endeavour's 12th visit to the station lasted nearly 12 full days. Its first visit in December 1998 delivered the station's first U.S. component, the Unity node.

The first landing opportunity at Kennedy Space Center for Endeavour and its crew of six comes at 2:35 a.m. Wednesday, weather permitting.

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