Friday, February 19, 2010

Endeavour departs newly upgraded Space Station

The space shuttle Endeavour departed the International Space Station tonight after ten days of spacewalks and the addition of two key components as earth's orbital outpost sails into a new decade.

Endeavour separated from the space station at 7:54 pm EST, as the orbital duo sailed 209 miles over the north Atlantic Ocean following 9 days, 19 hours and 48 minutes of joint operations.

Prior to the shuttle's departure tonight, the space station was rotated 180-degrees from the Russian side of the station in the direction of travel to the space shuttle as the lead in it's orbital path.

Bolts and springs were then released popping Endeavour's orbital docking system outward from the station's docking port and sending the shuttle toward a Sunday evening Florida landing.

Endeavour pilot Terry Virts, operating from the aft flight deck, flew Endeavour forward in the direction of travel and leading the station.

The orbital complex now weighs 799,045 lbs, and is 98% completed by volume following the orbiter's delivery and mating of the Tranquility node and the cupola observation module this week.

"Thank-you for the great hospitality," shuttle commander George Zamaka radioed to the five member Expedition 22 crew of the space station.

"U.S. space shuttle Endeavour departing!", station commander Jeffery Williams announced, and then performed the traditional clanging of the gold bell from inside in true nautical formation. "God speed guys, we'll see you back on the planet."

Twenty minutes following undocking, a beautiful view of Endeavour's shadow on one of the space station's solar arrays became visible, and this reporter captured a video still as the pair flew 400 feet apart.

Minutes later at 410-feet out, Virts then began flying the orbiter in a 360-degree fly around of the station complex.

Led by commander Zamaka, the 130th space shuttle crew includes Virts and mission specialists Kathryn Hire, Stephen Robinson, Nicholas Patrick and Robert Behnken.

Later tonight, the crew will take close up views of the orbiter's thermal protection system to look for possible micrometeorite hits on the wing leading edges and nose section.

Landing remains set for Sunday night at 10:16 pm, here at the Kennedy Space Center.

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