Shuttle Endeavour has pulled away from the international space station and is heading for home after a heartfelt farewell between the two crews.
The departure last night culminated 12 days of shared work, the longest mission ever of its kind.
The 10 space travellers performed a record-tying five spacewalks, put together a space station robot and provided a new Japanese compartment and resident for the orbiting complex.
"In my mind, in my view, it's been an extraordinary mission," said LeRoy Cain, chairman of the mission management team. "It's just been a textbook mission up and down the line in every way that I look at it."
Before the hatches were closed in the late afternoon, a few hours before the shuttle's undocking, astronaut Garrett Reisman pretended he was going to float into Endeavour. Space station commander Peggy Whitson grabbed him around the waist and pulled him back.
"I already feel the nostalgia coming on about the (shuttle) crew," Reisman said.
Reisman flew up aboard Endeavour to replace French astronaut Leopold Eyharts, who was going home on the shuttle. They embraced and patted each others' backs as they parted company; the other astronauts did the same.
"Up to you, Garrett. It's your turn," said Eyharts, who spent one months at the space station, less time than planned because of the previous shuttle flight's delay in getting him there.