Farewells for space crews: Discovery set to undock

Associated Press
In this March 3, 2011 photo provided by NASA, inside the U.S. lab Destiny, 12 astronauts and cosmonauts take a break from a very busy week aboard the International Space Station to pose for a joint STS-133/Expedition 26 group portrait. The STS-133 crew members, all attired in red shirts, from left, are NASA astronauts Nicole Stott, Alvin Drew, Eric Boe, Steve Lindsay, Michael Barratt and Steve Bowen. The dark blue-attired Expedition 26 crew members, from left, are European Space Agency astronaut Paolo Nespoli, along with Russian cosmonauts Oleg Skripochka, Dmitry Kondratyev, below, and Alexander Y. Kaleri and astronauts Scott Kelly and Cady Coleman, below. Serving the STS-133 and Expedition 26 missions as commanders were Lindsay and Kelly, respectively.  (AP Photo/NASA)
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The space shuttle and space station crews hustled to take care of last-minute business Sunday before sealing the hatches between them.

The two astronaut teams were all set to close the hatches between their spacecraft Sunday afternoon. Then Monday morning, shuttle Discovery will undock for the final time from the International Space Station.

Discovery's astronauts packed away medical experiments and water samples for return to Earth, while there was still time.

Discovery, the most-traveled rocketship ever, is on its final flight. When it returns to Earth on Wednesday, it will be retired and sent to the Smithsonian Institution.

The space shuttle and its crew of six have spent more than a week at the space station. They delivered and installed a new storage compartment that held a humanoid robot.

The robot, named R2 for Robonaut 2, has yet to be unwrapped. The space station astronauts will get to it within the next few weeks.

Mission Control gave Discovery's astronauts two extra days at the orbiting outpost. They took advantage of the bonus time to empty the storage unit of all the gear that was carried up. The bonus days stretched the entire mission to 13 days on top of the 352 days already logged during Discovery's previous 38 missions.

Flight director Bryan Lunney said he doesn't expect Discovery's departure from the space station — the last one ever — to be emotional for him. There won't be time to pause and reflect on the historic aspects, he said.

Immediately after undocking, Discovery will fly a victory lap of sorts around the orbiting lab, essentially for picture-taking. Then the shuttle astronauts will pull out an inspection boom and survey their ship for any signs of micrometeorite damage.

"For us on console, it's stick with the business," Lunney told reporters. "Take care of the crew, take care of the vehicle, make sure everything's going well."

"Afterward, perhaps, it will be a little emotional," he added. "But for the most part, we'll just be excited that the mission has gone so darn well."

Discovery's six astronauts accomplished everything they set out to do: installing the new storage unit and an equipment platform at the space station, and conducting two spacewalks.

"Just a friendly reminder," Mission Control joked in a morning message. "Before closing the hatch tonight, make sure everything and everybody is on the correct side!!!!!!"

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