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Atlantis crew leave ISS after 3 spacewalks

The spacecraft pulled away from the space station for a return trip to Earth after its six astronauts bade farewell to the residents of the orbiting lab.

india Updated: Sep 17, 2006 19:54 IST

Space shuttle Atlantis pulled away from the international space station on Sunday for a return trip to Earth after its six astronauts bade farewell to the residents of the orbiting lab with hugs, handshakes and the traditional ringing of a bell. "The crew of Atlantis is departing," station resident Jeff Williams radioed to Mission Control in Houston.

Pilot Chris Ferguson carefully eased Atlantis through a tight corridor away from the station. About 450 feet (135 metres) away, he fired jets to manoeuvre Atlantis around the space lab so the crew could take photos of their handiwork -- a newly expanded station. The space station gleamed in the reflection of the sun. "I hope you guys have a nice view up there," Mission Control radioed.

It has been years since NASA and its international partners have gotten a complete view of the orbiting space lab, and the space station is quite different from how Atlantis' crew found it six days ago.

In three arduous spacewalks with the blue-green Earth as a backdrop, the crew unpacked and installed a 17{-ton addition which contained a pair of solar wings that will ultimately generate a quarter of the space station's power.

The wings are the first addition to the orbiting space lab since the 2003 Columbia disaster. NASA will affix two more pairs of solar wings on the space station before it is completed in 2010. The crew woke up to Kenny Loggins' Danger Zone. Pilot Chris Ferguson, whose family requested the song for him, told Mission Control in Houston: "That's great music for ... what will be a bittersweet day for us today, undocking from the station."

The crew spent the earlier part of their day hauling supplies and equipment from their spacecraft to the station, and getting ready for the undocking and fly-around.

Atlantis returns to Earth Wednesday morning after 11 days in space. The next space station mission dedicated to construction is slated to launch in December.

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