Discovery astronauts finishing up duties at international space station

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- Shuttle Discovery's astronauts wrapped up their few remaining chores at the international space station Monday, flexing the robot arm belonging to the newly installed Japanese science lab and opening its attic.

The two crews planned on saying farewell today, with Discovery heading out first thing Wednesday morning.

Shuttle commander Mark Kelly marveled at the low number of problems on the space station construction mission, all of them relatively minor.

"Overall, the mission's been a great success," Kelly said. "I certainly have a great crew who's well trained, but also a little bit of luck is always involved in this."

Japan's billion-dollar Kibo lab -- which means hope -- had the door to its attic swung open. The storage closet, in orbit for three months, was attached to the lab late last week.

In addition, Kibo's robot arm was extended to its full 33 feet, with all six joints tested. At the end of the workout, the arm was folded into a long-term resting position.

Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide made sure that his Tokyo-based flight controllers got to see Kibo's arm in action. "It was such a pretty view, we just wanted to share it with you guys," he said.

Tetsuro Yokoyama, a Japanese Space Agency official at Mission Control in Houston, said it was "simply spectacular" to see the robot arm partly deployed and looking relaxed, compared with its tightly folded launch position. He said he and other program members were more relaxed now, too.

Kibo's arm will be used to handle outdoor science experiments once a porch, the third and final section of the lab, is launched next year. A 7-foot robot arm will be sent up then as well. The sparkling white and blue chamber is the size of a bus, the biggest room at the space station.

Discovery delivered Kibo to the space station a week ago, along with a new space station resident, Gregory Chamitoff. He traded places with Garrett Reisman, who is leaving after a three-month stay. Chamitoff's mission will last twice that long.

Chamitoff said when the hatches close between the two spacecraft Tuesday, "that's going to be the hard moment."

Reisman, meanwhile, can't wait to get back to his wife, Simone Francis, and, to a lesser degree, their cat Fuzzy. He's also looking forward to "a good slice of pizza" and some bread, banned from the space station because of crumbs. He's had to settle for tortillas in orbit.

"A nice big fat hamburger bun or something like that would be great," Reisman said at a news conference. "That's what I think about."

But adjusting to gravity will take some time, he noted.

"So even though I have visions of stepping off the shuttle and chowing down a giant T-bone steak or something, that's not going to happen. But eventually it will, and I'm looking forward to that day," he said.

Landing is set for Saturday.

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