Shuttle crew closes door on space shuttle mission

Astronauts on the International Space Station and visiting space shuttle Atlantis said goodbye on Monday as they closed the hatch between their two ships in preparation for the shuttle’s departure on Tuesday.

The 10 space travellers spoke warm words of friendship and shook hands before the seven Atlantis crewmembers floated into their spacecraft and shut the door behind them.

“It’s been a great mission but all good things come to an end,” shuttle commander Rick Sturckow said in a brief ceremony on the station. “We faced some adversity together but ... the problems were overcome and the mission was a success.”

“Of course we had some problems,” said station commander Fyodor Yurchikin.

“Everybody on ground worked very hard, all day, all night, with us together, because we are one big crew, everybody.
Now we would like to say goodbye, shuttle, have a good, safe landing,” Yurchikin said.

Atlantis is scheduled to return to Kennedy Space Centre in central Florida on Thursday.

The adversity referred to was a crash last week of the station’s primary computer network, raising concerns that the half-finished $100-billion outpost would have to be temporarily abandoned.

Computer problem fixed

The computers control the firing of rocket thrusters that keep the station properly positioned in space for tracking the sun for power, pointing communications antennas and warming or cooling parts of the complex.

An around-the-clock effort for several days revived the computers over the weekend.

They were tested on Monday before hatch closing and found to function well, said mission operations representative Phil Engelauf.

“Everything performed exactly as it should have,” he said in a briefing at Johnson Space Control.

The malfunction was believed to have been caused by an electrical problem but Engelauf said: “We still have not found a smoking gun about what caused [it].”

Atlantis, which arrived at the station on June 10, two days after launch from Florida, used its rockets to keep the spacecraft stable during the computer crisis and could have stayed another day if needed.

Atlantis astronauts installed a new set of solar power panels on the station and prepared it for the future delivery of new laboratories owned by the European and Japanese space agencies.

They also retracted an old solar panel that will be moved later to a new location on the station, which is a project of 16 nations.

Astronaut Sunita Williams was taking the shuttle back to Earth after a six-month stay at the station. She is being replaced by fellow American Clayton Anderson.

Williams, who set a record for the longest spaceflight by a woman, radioed an emotional thanks to ground controllers.

“I’m sad to say goodbye but that means progress in being made and it’s time for the International Space Station to grow a little more,” Williams said in a tearful farewell.

Atlantis’ launch on June 8 was three months late due to extensive repairs needed to its external fuel tank, which was damaged in a freak hailstorm on February 26.

Nasa plans at least 12 more missions to finish construction of the space station, with the next scheduled to launch August 9. - Reuters

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