Shuttle leaves newly rewired space station for return to Earth

NATION DIGEST

December 20, 2006|By ORLANDO SENTINEL

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- Space shuttle Discovery's astronauts left behind a successfully rewired International Space Station yesterday as they began the trip home after an eight-day visit.

Discovery smoothly undocked from the outpost a few minutes after 5 p.m. as the spacecraft sailed 220 miles above the Indian Ocean. Three hours earlier, the seven shuttle astronauts and the station's three residents held a brief farewell ceremony.

"It's always a goal to try and leave some place in a better shape than it was when you came, and I think we've accomplished that due to everybody's hard work," shuttle commander Mark Polansky said.

The outpost was rewired from a temporary electrical system to its permanent power grid during two spacewalks, setting the stage for the future arrival of new laboratories. A structural truss was added during another spacewalk that will support a set of power-producing solar panels. And a stubborn wing on the set of panels that will be relocated atop the truss next year finally was folded up and stored after five days of effort that included an unscheduled fourth spacewalk.

Discovery will ferry home German astronaut Thomas Reiter, who spent five months on the station after arriving on the shuttle in July. His replacement, NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, is scheduled to remain aboard the station for six months and return in June on Endeavour.

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