Shuttle Discovery leaves space station

By C. BRYSON HULL

Associated Press

SPACE CENTER, Houston – Space shuttle Discovery and its astronauts left the international space station today after a weeklong mission to add new sections and prepare for the arrival of the first full-time crew.

Pilot Pamela Melroy eased the shuttle away from the station as the spacecraft soared 240 miles above Brazil.

Discovery’s departure was delayed by 90 minutes – one orbit – when the astronauts fell a little behind Thursday in their work inside the space station. They sealed the hatches between the shuttle and station this morning, and then departed.

Discovery is due to return to Earth on Sunday.

The shuttle was docked seven days to the space station. The crew spent four of those days doing construction work outside, in four challenging spacewalks.

On Thursday, the crew transferred a few supplies and wiped down the station’s walls with a fungicide to prevent mold and mildew. They also tested four motion-control gyroscopes they installed earlier in the mission, with help from Mission Control.

The massive gyroscopes, used to aim the station, were spun briefly at 100 revolutions per minute, well below the 6,600 rpm that will be required for operations early next year. They worked as expected, NASA said.

The gyroscopes are part of an aluminum framework, or truss, installed by the crew. They also put a new docking port into place.

Commander Brian Duffy said his crew worked hard to make sure everything is ready for the station’s first residents. “I think they’re really going to be happy to get here,” he said.

If everything goes according to plan, Discovery’s seven astronauts will be the last visitors to the station until its first permanent resident crew arrives early next month. Astronaut Bill Shepherd and two cosmonauts are scheduled to blast off Oct. 31 from Kazakstan aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket.

Though the station’s systems were in good shape, one very critical shuttle system failed briefly Thursday.

The solid-waste compactor on the shuttle toilet jammed, and Melroy and Jeff Wisoff were pressed into duty as plumbers. Proving that being an astronaut isn’t always glamorous, the pair put on long gloves and unclogged the line.

“Jeff is more of a hero than I think most people will appreciate,” Melroy said.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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