Monday, July 18, 2011

Cargo module secured for return home

Atlantis astronauts have completed their last major task before departing the International Space Station, securing a cargo module in the orbiter's payload bay for the return home.

The Raffaello module's hatch was closed around 1 a.m. today, about a week after the crew had attached the module to the station's Harmony node to begin unloading nearly five tons of food and supplies.

A little before 7 a.m., a robotic arm operated by Atlantis pilot Doug Hurley and mission specialist Sandy Magnus lifted the 22,000-pound, 21-foot long canister from Harmony and slowly maneuvered it a short distance into Atlantis' payload bay.

Mission control confirmed at 7:48 a.m. that four latches had begun closing to secure Raffaello in the payload bay for the flight back to Earth.

The module is packed with 5,666 pounds of trash, unneeded or broken equipment and science experiment samples. A good portion of the trash consists of protective foam that covers large equipment when it is delivered to space.

Soon the station's 58-foot robotic arm will let go of Raffaello, completing this morning's work.

The four Atlantis astronauts and six station residents plan to gather at 9:19 a.m. for a farewell ceremony before they part ways and hatches between the spacecraft are closed.

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