Space shuttle and International Space Station crew members enjoyed a final evening meal together Tuesday after a day of activities aimed at relaxing after a challenging week of joint operations and making final preparations for Atlantis' undocking and departure tomorrow.
Atlantis Commander Jeff Ashby and Expedition Five Science Officer Peggy Whitson put on their air-conditioning maintenance caps, removing and replacing a humidity separator in the station's Quest airlock. That device, which removes excess moisture from the airlock's atmosphere, had been exhibiting some leakage attributed to a clogged filter. The repair work went as planned, and the old unit is destined to come home in the same space on Atlantis that carried up the fresh unit.
Loadmaster Sandy Magnus coordinated the final transfer of equipment and supplies from Atlantis to the station, as well as the packing of items that are being returned to Earth on the shuttle. A total of about 1,800 pounds of supplies were delivered to the station, and an equal amount will be brought back.
The joint crew will be awakened at 2:46 a.m. CDT Wednesday and begin final departure preparations. The two crews will conduct a final farewell ceremony at 5:59 a.m., then gather on the opposite sides of their hatches and close the doors.
Undocking is scheduled for 8:13 a.m. After Pilot Pam Melroy gently eases Atlantis out to a distance of 450 feet, she will fire its reaction control system thrusters and begin a slow fly-around of the station so that her crewmates may take still and video pictures of the station with its newest addition, the Starboard 1 truss structure. Melroy expects to fly at least halfway around the station before separating, but if propellant supplies allow she may be able to make one complete revolution.
Once back on their own, the Expedition Five voyagers – 131 days into their mission, 129 as station crewmembers – return their attention to unpacking a Russian Progress supply vehicle that arrived in late September, and packing up belongings for their own return home scheduled for late November aboard Space Shuttle Endeavour. Endeavour rolled out to its Kennedy Space Center launch pad over the weekend, and the next station addition, a Port 1 truss segment, was loaded in the cargo bay today.
Between now and then, Expedition Five will receive more guests from Earth when a new Russian Soyuz emergency return vehicle and crew arrive following launch Oct. 28 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
The next STS-112 status report will be issued tomorrow morning, or earlier if warranted.
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