The Endeavour astronauts wrapped up last-minute experiment transfers early Sunday, bid farewell to the crew of the International Space Station and moved back aboard the shuttle to prepare the ship for undocking Sunday night.
Commander Mark Kelly, who is also the husband of shot congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, thanked the three-man station crew for its hospitality, saying “we had a very successful mission.” He added: “We got the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer installed, which is really a remarkable thing for physics and for science. That sensor’s already collecting massive amounts of data and we’re looking forward to hearing what those discoveries are.”
Mark Kelly, pilot Gregory H. Johnson, Michael Fincke, Gregory Chamitoff, Andrew Feustel and European Space Agency astronaut Roberto Vittori also delivered a pallet of spare parts, staged four spacewalks and helped service one of the station’s oxygen generators and a carbon dioxide removal assembly.
“It was a really good 10 days or so that we were docked here,” Mark Kelly said. “We’re looking forward to getting home, we’re going to leave these guys to some peace and quiet and not disturb their space station anymore.”
Thanks to a two-week launch delay, Endeavour arrived May 18 as three members of the station’s 27th crew were winding up their mission. Outgoing commander Dimitry Kondratyev, Paolo Nespoli and Catherine Coleman departed and returned to Earth aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft on May 23, leaving Andrey Borisenko, Alexander Samokutyaev and Ronald Garan behind as the core members of the Expedition 28 crew. Three additional crew members — Sergei Volkov, Michael Fossum and Satoshi Furukawa — are expected to arrive June 9.
“It was really great seeing you guys,” Garan told Kelly and his shuttle crewmates. “We were just in awe of the finely oiled machine that was STS-134. Great EVAs, great robotics, great transfer, AMS getting installed. Special thanks to Taz (Chamitoff) and Spanky (Fincke) for all your work on the oxygen generation system, on the carbon dioxide removal assembly. We’re all looking forward to seeing the mysteries solved from the AMS.
“So on behalf of Expedition 27, Expedition 28, the entire ISS team, we want to thank you and the entire STS-134 mission team for leaving the space station ready for its continued utilization for at least the next decade. You’ve really left us in good shape and it was really a big success.” Added Borisenko, the Expedition 28 commander: “Thank you very much and soft landing.”
After a final round of hugs and handshakes, the shuttle crew floated back aboard Endeavour. Chamitoff and Fincke, both veterans of long-duration stays aboard the station, pretended to stay behind and Feustel playfully pulled them back to the shuttle. The main hatch between the two spacecraft was closed at 7:23 a.m. EDT (GMT-4).
Kelly and his crewmates were scheduled to go to bed at 11:26 a.m. and to get back up at 7:26 p.m. to prepare for undocking four-and-a-half hours later, 11:55 p.m. Johnson plans to guide Endeavour through a 360-degree loop around the station before turning over control to Kelly, who will oversee a partial re-rendezvous, approaching to within about 1,000 feet of the lab complex to test new docking sensor technology being developed for NASA’s deep space exploration capsule, the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle.
The primary goal of Endeavour’s flight, the 134th for NASA’s space shuttle program, was to deliver and install the $2 billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer particle detector, designed to study dark matter, antimatter and other high-energy phenomena that cannot be detected by telescopes. [via The Telegraph (UK) Space Flight Now, Fox News]