US shuttle Atlantis leaves space station for home

By Xinhua

Washington : The US space shuttle Atlantis undocked from the International Space Station Monday morning, heading home after delivering a new European lab, according to NASA TV live broadcasting.

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“We just wanted to thank you again for being a great host and letting us enjoy your station for about a week,” Atlantis’ Commander Stephen Frick told ISS commander Peggy Whitson.

“It’s a great new room (Columbus laboratory) you have added on and we really appreciate it,” Whitson replied.

With pilot Alan Poindexter at the control, the shuttle has begun a fly around the station. The entire loop is expected to take about 45 minutes. Atlantis’ crew are snapping photos and taking video of the ISS during the fly-around.

Frick and his crewmates also said their goodbyes to the station’s three-men crew and shared hugs and warm words at a brief ceremony before the hatches between the two spacecraft closed at 1:03 p.m. (1803 GMT) Sunday.

Atlantis, with seven astronauts aboard, arrived at the orbital outpost Feb 9, delivering the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Columbus laboratory to the station.

The crews conducted three space walks during the linkup. The space walkers installed Columbus, prepared the new lab for its scientific work, and also replaced an expended nitrogen tank outside the station.

In addition, Atlantis delivered a new station crewmember, Flight Engineer Leopold Eyharts, an ESA astronaut. He replaced astronaut Daniel Tani, who is returning to Earth aboard Atlantis.