The crews of the Space Shuttle Atlantis and the International Space Station parted company at 8:06 a.m. Central today, as Pilot Mark Polansky flew Atlantis halfway around the station and its new Destiny laboratory before moving off toward a Sunday landing.
Polansky and STS-98 crewmates Ken Cockrell, Marsha Ivins, Bob Curbeam and Tom Jones said good-bye to Expedition One Commander Bill Shepherd, Pilot Yuri Gidzenko and Flight Engineer Sergei Krikalev and closed the hatches between the two spacecraft at 7:14 a.m. after a total of 63 hours and 9 minutes of open-hatch operations. Undocking occurred over the Western Pacific northeast of New Guinea breaking contact with the station after 6 days, 21 hours and 15 minutes.
Shepherd bid farewell to the station’s visitors, saying “Alpha would like to salute the crew of Atlantis and the partnership for bringing great new capability – we’ll use it well. Safe voyage back and good landing.”
Continuing their four-month stay on orbit, Shepherd, Gidzenko and Krikalev spent time exercising and conducting routine planning conferences with flight controllers in Moscow and Houston. After taking the weekend off, they will continue to activate Destiny’s systems and get ready to relocate their Soyuz vehicle from the aft docking port of the Zvezda module to the nadir docking port of the Zarya module. The move in a week will enable a new Progress resupply vehicle to dock to Zvezda at the end of the month. After completing their departure and fly-around, the Atlantis astronauts began stowing the equipment that was used on the flight’s three spacewalks, and working on final stowage locations for items being returned to Earth from the station. They also spoke with reporters for the Fox News Network, KIRO-TV in Seattle and SPACE.com, and enjoyed several hours of off-duty time.
The Atlantis crew will awaken at 4:13 a.m. Saturday and continue to make ready for a Sunday landing at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The forecast calls for favorable conditions at the landing strip for an 11:50 a.m. Central touchdown, although winds are expected to be gusty.
Atlantis and the ISS are orbiting at an altitude of about 237 statute miles with the shuttle now about 60 miles ahead and widening the gap about 10 miles every orbit.
The Johnson Space Center newsroom will close at 9 p.m. and reopen at 4 a.m. Friday. The next Mission Status Report will be issued at 5 a.m. Central Saturday.
- end -