Endeavour's astronauts made a final fly-around of the International Space Station Saturday afternoon, then separated from the orbital outpost they had helped make the most powerful spacecraft ever.
Bob Cabana, ISS manager for International Operations, said at a Saturday afternoon briefing after Endeavour's undocking that the ISS is "a fully functional space station that is growing by leaps and bounds." Endeavour left the P6 solar array structure on the station, with wings stretching 240 feet from tip to tip. It can provide as much as 60 kilowatts of power under ideal conditions.
The shuttle and the space station closed the last hatch linking them at 9:51 a.m. Undocking took place as scheduled, at 1:13 p.m. The shuttle and space station had been docked to one another for 6 days, 23 hours and 13 minutes. Endeavour moved downward from the space station, then began a tail-first circle at a distance of about 500 feet. The maneuver, with pilot Mike Bloomfield at the controls, took about an hour.
While Endeavour flew that circle, the two spacecraft, moving at five miles a second, flew about two-thirds of the way around the Earth. Undocking took place 235 statute miles above the border of Kazakhstan and China. When Endeavour made its final separation burn, the orbiter and the space station were near the northeastern coast of South America.
Shortly after undocking, Expedition One commander Bill Shepherd radioed a "well done Endeavour" to commander Brent Jett, Bloomfield and mission specialists Marc Garneau, Joe Tanner and Carlos Noriega. Jett radioed the station crew best wishes for the rest of its mission. Shepherd and cosmonauts Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev will spend about three more months aboard the space station.
Late in the day, Canadian astronaut Garneau talked with John Manley, Canadian minister of foreign affairs and international trade, Mac Evans, Canadian Space Agency president, and elementary school children at the Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa.
Before going to bed at 10:06 p.m. the STS-97 crew got some off-duty time and adjusted the shuttle's orbit to give it an additional landing opportunity in Florida. Endeavour is to touch down at 5:04 p.m. CST Monday at Kennedy Space Center.
The next STS-97 status report will be issued Sunday morning.
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