CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – The astronauts aboard the orbiting shuttle and station complex shook hands and hugged goodbye Tuesday as the doors swung shut between their spacecraft on the eve of undocking.
Gregory Chamitoff, the international space station's newest resident, said he was sad to see his friends go, "but I'm looking forward to the adventure ahead."
As for Garrett Reisman, headed home after three months in orbit, it was a satisfying moment.
He hugged Chamitoff twice, patted him on the back and shared a few final laughs before floating into shuttle Discovery for the ride back to Earth. He also had warm bear hugs for the two Russians he was leaving behind.
Reisman noted that his performance was by no means perfect, "but I managed not to break anything really expensive."
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He's in hot water, though, with his wife.
When asked Monday what he was looking forward to most on Earth, Reisman summed it up in two words: Simone Francis.
"She was furious with me for embarrassing her like that," he said with a laugh Tuesday. "But the truth is that when I look out the window at the planet and I look down at all the people down there, I'm usually just thinking about just one of all those billions of people. And that's definitely what I'm looking forward to seeing the most."
A few minutes later, a TV interviewer told Reisman it was "the most romantic answer I think I've ever heard about what you miss most on Earth."
Discovery is scheduled to pull away from the space station on Wednesday morning, ending a nine-day visit that was highlighted by the installation of a brand new Japanese lab. The shuttle and its crew of seven are due back on Earth on Saturday.
Reisman, 40, a mechanical engineer, moved into the space station in March and was replaced by Chamitoff, 45, an aeronautics researcher who flew up on Discovery for a six-month stay.
"This is a hand-over between one Jewish astronaut and another, so we're pretty excited about that," Chamitoff said.
Chamitoff took up some bagels to share with Reisman — they were made by Chamitoff's family in Montreal — as well as a few mezuzahs that he's flying for friends.
He said he can't install the mezuzahs, religious objects attached to the entrances of Jewish homes, because "we can't decorate the space station as we like."
Reisman spent the past week showing Chamitoff the ropes and gave him his phone number in case he needed to ask something.
"He's probably going to change his number," Chamitoff said.
Flight director Matt Abbott said the mission has gone "just phenomenally well" and noted that "the one thing that will make me happier is when we get Discovery and the crew safely on the ground."
Earlier Tuesday, the astronauts installed a backup drive system for the new Japanese lab's robotic arm and packed their spacecraft with equipment and science and medical samples to take back with them.
Flight controllers from around the world who work with the station's crew took time on Tuesday to bid farewell to Reisman.
"I couldn't imagine what these last few months would have been like without all the help you have given me," he said.
Astronauts aboard the shuttle-station complex also got some off-duty time Tuesday.
"We usually try and give the crews time off in the joint mission just to give them a little chance to relax because they work extremely hard," flight director Annette Hasbrook said.
Discovery delivered the new lab named Kibo, Japanese for hope, to the space station last week.
The 37-foot lab, about the size of a bus, is the biggest room at the space station. Kibo also has a storage closet and a 33-foot robotic arm, which was successfully tested Monday.
The lab's third and final section — a "porch" for exterior experiments — and a second, smaller robotic arm will be delivered next year.
Reisman said he is going to miss one thing about his time on the space station.
"It's definitely floating," he said. "We call it floating but really it's more like flying because as soon as you push off you're moving through the air like some kind of superhero. To be able to do that every day as you're commuting to work is unreal."
Chamitoff said it's going to be hard for him initially when the hatches between the shuttle and the station close.
"After that, I'm with really good friends that I've spent years training with," he said, referring to the two Russian cosmonauts who have been living on the station for two months. "They will show me the ropes."
Before returning home, Discovery's astronauts will pull out the laser-tipped inspection boom that they retrieved from the space station, and survey their ship's wings and nose cap.
Engineers on the ground will be looking for any damage from debris generated during the May 31 launch or from micrometeorites in orbit.
Abbott said there is no reason to suspect any problems, based on all the photography and data collected.
The laser survey normally is conducted the day after liftoff, but Discovery didn't have room for the inspection boom because of the giant Kibo lab that filled its payload bay.