With a gentle push from springs in the docking module, Endeavour backed slowly away from the International Space Station at 12:34 p.m. Central time today, as the two spacecraft soared 240 miles over the South Pacific Ocean, east of Australia.
As Pilot Jeff Ashby slowly backed Endeavour away, Commander Kent Rominger and Expedition Two flight engineer Susan Helms exchanged final wishes for Endeavour’s planned return to Earth, and a continued safe journey for the station crew. Once Endeavour was at a distance of 450 feet from the station, Ashby initiated a three-quarter circle flyaround of the station as Mission Specialist Yuri Lonchakov activated a large-format IMAX camera in Endeavour’s payload bay to photograph the station.
At 1:28 p.m., with the flyaround complete, Ashby fired a separation burn, initiating Endeavour’s final departure from the orbiting complex, now equipped with a new Canadian-built robotic arm and communications antenna, installed by Mission Specialists Scott Parazynski and Chris Hadfield during two space walks. During eight days of joint operations, the two crews also transferred more than three tons of supplies, equipment and scientific experiments to the station.
On board the station, the Expedition Two crew – Commander Yury Usachev and Flight Engineers Jim Voss and Helms – will enjoy some time off this afternoon following a busy week on orbit. Early Monday morning, they will support the docking of a replacement Soyuz spacecraft that will serve as the station’s “lifeboat.” The Soyuz and its crew of three – Commander Talgat Musabayev, Flight Engineer Yuri Baturin and American businessman Dennis Tito -- is scheduled to dock at 2:52 a.m. Monday.
Endeavour’s crew will go to sleep shortly after 4:30 p.m. today, awakening at 1:41 a.m. Monday to begin what should be their final full day on orbit. Endeavour is scheduled to return to the Kennedy Space Center, weather permitting, at 8:03 a.m. Tuesday. The primary activity for the crew on Monday will center on Endeavour’s return to Earth, with Rominger, Ashby and Flight Engineer John Phillips verifying the performance of Endeavour’s flight control surfaces and steering jets. Hadfield, Parazynski, Lonchakov and Umberto Guidoni will begin stowing away much of the equipment the crew has used over the past 11 days on orbit. All seven crew members are scheduled to participate in a press conference, talking with media in the U.S., Canada and Italy, at 10:01 a.m. Monday.
The next mission status report will be issued Monday morning or sooner if events warrant.
- end -