Astronauts Ready Shuttle Endeavour for Landing
HOUSTON – Endeavour's seven astronauts aimed for a Wednesday night landing in Florida after more than two grueling weeks of space station construction.
Early weather forecasts looked good for the shuttle's planned touchdown just before sunset at Kennedy Space Center.
"You always have a little bit of butterflies when you approach an event like that," commander Dominic Gorie said Tuesday night. "We're certainly not scared about it. But yeah, a little bit nervous about wanting to do it just right, and just like you've been training for.
"But the Endeavour's in great shape, and we're looking forward to getting back into Florida right before sunset," he said in an interview with The Associated Press.
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The shuttle crew spent most of Tuesday packing up for the final leg home and conducting pre-landing systems checks. Everything tested fine.
Orbital debris hit has left a BB-sized ding in one of the shuttle's cockpit windows, but flight director Richard Jones said NASA was confident it posed no threat for re-entry.
"The orbiter's really been performing really marvelously this whole flight," Gorie said. "We don't have any concerns at all about it."
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The shuttle's crew accomplished every task on their lengthy to-do list, from adding another room to the international space station to assembling a giant robot that will help spacewalkers maintain the orbiting outpost.
They also tested a patch for shuttle thermal tiles, inspected a jammed solar-wing joint, dropped off a shuttle inspection boom and swapped out station residents.
French astronaut Leopold Eyharts was returning home aboard Endeavour after about a month and a half in space. His American replacement, Garrett Reisman, will remain in orbit until June.
A Japanese astronaut also took part in Endeavour's mission, Takao Doi.
As for Eyharts, he's looking forward to tasting all sorts of French food after being off the planet for so long.
"But what I'm missing most right now is maybe a small glass of red wine," he said with a smile.
Endeavour was returning much lighter than when it blasted into orbit in the early hours of March 11.
The shuttle delivered to the space station the first section of Japan's Kibo lab, a 14-foot, 18,500-pound storage compartment. The actual lab will arrive in May aboard Discovery.
Endeavour also ferried up a 12-foot, 3,400-pound robot named Dextre — complete with 11-foot arms — that was provided by Canada.
It took three spacewalks to put Dextre together outside the space station.
Astronaut Richard Linnehan, one of Dextre's assemblers, said the robot reminded him of something out of one of Arthur C. Clarke's science-fiction novels. Clarke died while the astronauts were in orbit.
But Dextre also struck an Old West pose later in the mission, Linnehan said, with one of its giant arms pointing out into space with a sort of pistol grip.
"It's just kind of stepping in the next age up here in robotics, in terms of having something that's going to actually be out there working and moving things around, other than humans," Linnehan told the AP.
In all, five spacewalks were conducted by the astronauts, the most for a shuttle-station mission.
Endeavour spent 12 days at the station, the longest visit by a shuttle.
Nevertheless, Jones said, the crew didn't seem a bit fatigued as landing approached.
"They're ready to go. They've got their game faces on," he said.
Gorie said he's amazed with all that his crew has accomplished.
"Any time you have an ambitious mission like this, you can't help but wonder how it's all going to unfold," he said. "I knew our chances were good but you never quite know for sure until you pull it off."