Shuttle Heading for Home on Sunday
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - Endeavour's astronauts aim to depart the International Space Station Friday night, leaving behind the last major addition to the US section of the outpost and a windowed perch with unparalleled views of planet Earth.
With rookie shuttle pilot Terry Virts at the controls, Endeavour will push off from the U.S. Harmony module around 7:54 p.m. ET.
Virts then will fly a looping victory lap-and-a-half around the station, winding up the successful delivery of the U.S. Tranquility module and the cupola observation deck.
"It's an amazing milestone, and this is just an absolutely incredible facility," station commander Jeffrey Williams said.
The departure will cap a 10-day stay that included three spacewalks to outfit the Tranquility module. It houses station life support systems, exercise equipment and a bathroom.
The last major US wing of the station also sports the Earth-facing cupola observation deck.
"The view is amazing," Virts said. "It took my breath away."
Equipped with seven windows that afford a 360-degree view, the Italian alcove will be a control center for station robot arm operations and a place to monitor the comings and goings of visiting vehicles.
Endeavour and its six astronauts plan one last extensive inspection of the shuttle's vulnerable wing panels and nose cap.
Mission Commander George Zamka, Virts and mission specialists Steve Robinson, Kay Hire and Nicholas Patrick will survey the heat-shield components with the shuttle's sensor-tipped inspection boom.
The crew, which includes mission specialist Bob Behnken, on Saturday will test critical systems required for atmospheric re-entry. Landing at Kennedy Space Center is set for 10:16 p.m. ET Sunday.