Monday, May 23, 2011

Soyuz set for historic departure, photos

Three International Space Station residents are packing up their Russian spacecraft in preparation to return home today after a five-and-a-half month stay in space.

American Cady Coleman, Italian Paolo Nespoli and Russian Dmitry Kondratyev will bid farewell to three other station residents around 2 p.m. EDT, close the hatch to their Soyuz TMA-20 taxi and undock at 5:35 p.m.

"Last day in space. Lots of work and things to do," Nespoli said on Twitter (@astro_paolo). "But I will not forget to enjoy the view one more time..."

Nespoli handed leadership of the station's U.S. segement to American Ron Garan, who with Russians Andrey Borisenko and Alexander Samokutyaev will officially begin Expedition 28 when the Soyuz departs.

On Sunday, Borisenko assumed command of the station from Kondratyev.

The departure of a Soyuz while a shuttle is present is unprecedented station operations. The shuttle and station programs agreed to the "dual docked operation" after years of analysis.

The undocking will be followed by another first. After Kondratyev backs the Soyuz away to a distance of about 650 feet, Nesploi will climb into the spacecraft's habitation module -- normally sealed at that point -- to take pictures and video of Endeavour docked to the completed space station.

Read more about the historic photo op here, and check out this NASA animation of how it will unfold:

Through it all, the six Endeavour astronauts are scheduled be asleep, though they have the option of getting up to see the Soyuz off.

In order not to disrupt the Soyuz operation, today has largely been an off-duty day. Tuesday includes some off-duty time, preparations for the mission's third of four spacewalks on Wednesday, some station maintenance and media interviews.

Endeavour launched from Kennedy Space Center a week ago to begin a 16-day mission, the orbiter's 25th and last. Its final landing is planned around 2:30 a.m. June 1.

IMAGE: "Putting our patch on station. Expedition 27 is done!" Posted on Twitter by Paolo Nespoli.

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