Astronauts sail past halfway point of long flight

May 24, 2011 - 10:30 AM
APTOPIX Kazakhstan Russia Space Landing

Russian space agency rescue team members carry U.S. astronaut Cady Coleman away from the landing site after the landing of the Soyuz capsule about 150 km (80 miles) south-east of the Kazakh town of Dzhezkazgan, Tuesday, May. 24, 2011. The Soyuz capsule carrying Italian, American and Russian back to Earth from the International Space Station landed safely in Kazakhstan on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel, Pool)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — The astronauts on NASA's next-to-last space shuttle flight hit the halfway point of their 16-day journey Tuesday, marveling over earthly vistas and expressing sadness over Endeavour's looming retirement.

Endeavour's six astronauts took it easy on their eighth day in orbit. On Monday, they said goodbye to three space station colleagues who landed safely in Kazakhstan aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule.

Now there are just nine men — representing the United States, Russia and Italy — aboard the shuttle-station complex.

The shuttle astronauts worked on the International Space Station's air system and, getting a little time off, soaked in the views more than 200 miles below. They sounded like excited children when the French beaches of Normandy appeared in the windows.

Two of the crew will venture back out Wednesday for the third spacewalk of the mission, to hook up some power cables to the Russian segment of the orbiting outpost. A fourth spacewalk will follow at the end of the week; the astronauts will attach the shuttle's inspection boom to the space station to give future crews extra reach for potential repairs.

In a series of TV interviews Tuesday morning, commander Mark Kelly and his crew said they will be sorry when Endeavour's final voyage comes to an end June 1.

"It looks like it belongs right here" at the space station, said spaceman Gregory Chamitoff.

This is the 25th flight of Endeavour, the youngest of NASA's three remaining space shuttles. It was built to replace the lost Challenger and blasted off for the first time in 1992.

Discovery ended its flying career in March. Atlantis will take flight one last time in July to close out the 30-year space shuttle program.

NASA, meanwhile, said it would be "a matter of days" before the unprecedented photos taken during Monday's Soyuz departure are made available. The pictures of the essentially completed space station and the docked Endeavour will serve as a historic memento as the shuttle program ends.

___

Online:

NASA: http://www.nasa.gov/shuttle