Monday, July 18, 2011

Atlantis crew presents model orbiter, flag

Before floating back into Atlantis, four shuttle astronauts presented two special gifts to six International Space Station residents: a small model of a shuttle orbiter and a small American flag flown on the first shuttle mission.

Both were displayed on or by the forward hatch of the Harmony node, the "shuttle's regular old parking spot," said Atlantis commander Chris Ferguson.

Ferguson said the model carried signatures of "modern day titans" of the shuttle program including Program Manager John Shannon and Launch Director Mike Leinbach, but couldn't fit the tens of thousands of shuttle workers "who rose to orbit with us over the past 30 years, if only in spirit."

Expedition 28 flight engineers Mike Fossum and Ron Garan placed the flag on the Harmony node hatch.

Ferguson said it represented "not just a symbol of national pride and honor, but in this particular case it represents a goal."

The flag will be presented to the next crew to arrive on a U.S. launch vehicle, "hopefully in just a few years," Ferguson said.

There was no video avaialable to show the presentations, but it came on in time to see the two crews thank and congratulate each other and exchange hugs before the shuttle crew floated out of the Harmony node and into Atlantis, becoming the last shuttle crew to depart the station.

Hatches will soon be shut and the Atlantis crew will prepare to undock at 2:28 a.m. Tuesday.

The shuttle crew is scheduled to go to sleep at 1:59 p.m., a half-hour after the station crew.

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