The crew of the International Space Station and space shuttle Discovery received a phone call from US President Barack Obama on Tuesday.
Obama made the call from the White House along with a group of school children and members of Congress, whom he described as just as excited as the kids to speak with astronauts. He said he was proud of the US astronauts, but also of the international cooperation in the building and operation of the space station.
"Obviously we're really proud of the exciting work that our US astronauts are doing," Obama said. "But one of the things that is wonderful about this is that it's an international space station. I know we have Japanese and Russian counterparts on board. That's a spirit of cooperation we can apply not just on space, but on the ground as well."
Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata and Russian cosmonaut Yury Lonchakov emphasised their nation's role in the mission and need to work together on scientific endeavours.
At a press conference later Tuesday, Wakata, who is the newest crew member of the ISS and the first Japanese astronaut to live at the station long term, detailed his first views of his new home.
"My first impression is the space station interior is so big and I would love to stay here as long as I can," he said. "The interior is so big and very comfortable to live in."
He arrived at ISS with the space shuttle Discovery crew, which is to undock from the station Wednesday for the return to Earth. His predecessor on the ISS crew, US astronaut Sandra Magnus, will return home with the Discovery, which is set to land in Florida Saturday.
Magnus, who has fashioned herself as something of a space gourmand, will leave behind an assortment of balsamic vinegar, olive oil and other ingredients with which she has cooked for her crew members along with an assortment of recipes for the next "adventurous person" to spice up the standard prepackaged space food.
Once back on Earth, she told reporters she is looking forward to eating sushi, a milkshake and any food with melted cheese, which is not part of space meals.
Discovery will pass a Russian Soyuz mission on its way back to Earth. The Soyuz will launch on Thursday with two more ISS crew members and space tourist Charles Simonyi, a co-founder of Microsoft back for his second trip in space. Cosmonaut Gennady Padalka and US astronaut Michael Barratt will replace Lonchakov and current commander Mike Fincke.
On Monday, two Discovery space shuttle astronauts conducted the mission's final spacewalk. During the six-and-a-half hour event, astronauts Joseph Acaba and Richard Arnold repositioned an equipment cart, lubricated the space station's robotic arm and reconfigured cables that power the station's gyroscopes.
But they ran into some problems with deploying an external cargo mounting mechanism that got stuck and was not able to be fully opened. Still NASA, dubbed the spacewalk a success and said the problem could be fixed on a future spacewalk.
On Friday, the Discovery crew completed a long-awaited milestone with the installation of the station's fourth and final pair of solar panels to expand the satellite's power supply. This will allow the ISS to double its crew to six astronauts, slated for May.