- The Washington Times - Monday, February 18, 2008

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — The crews of the space shuttle and station said a teary farewell, then sealed the hatches between them yesterday after more than a week of working tirelessly together to build a bigger and better scientific outpost in orbit.

Atlantis was scheduled to undock early today, its load considerably lighter than when it arrived Feb. 9 with Europe’s premiere space laboratory, Columbus.

Astronaut Daniel Tani was especially emotional as he left the international space station, his home for the past four months.

Before floating into Atlantis for his long-overdue ride home, Mr. Tani paid tribute to his mother, Rose, who was killed in a car accident while he was in space — “my inspiration” — and his wife, Jane, who “had the hard work while I was having fun.”

“I can’t wait to get back to her and my two little girls,” he said.

He also saluted his two female commanders, the space station’s Peggy Whitson and Pamela Melroy, who delivered him to the orbiting complex back in October.

“If we were toasting, if we were in Russia, this would be the third toast,” Mr. Tani said, “the toast for the women in our lives.”

Mr. Tani recalled how he floated last week through the space station shooting high-definition video, with his nine colleagues busy at work from one end of the orbiting complex to the other and even outside. He said it reminded him of “those movies they used to show you about 25 years ago about how we’re going to live in space.”

“It was almost like a promotional video, and it was phenomenal,” he said.

Just before the seven shuttle crewmen departed, Miss Whitson said: “All right, you guys, it’s been great having you here.” The astronauts hugged one another and wiped away tears.

Staying behind with Miss Whitson were Mr. Tani’s replacements, a French astronaut and a Russian cosmonaut.

NASA is aiming to wrap up Atlantis’ successful 13-day mission with a landing on Wednesday. Both the Kennedy Space Center and the backup landing site in California will be poised to receive Atlantis; the space agency wants the shuttle down that day to give the military enough time to destroy a damaged spy satellite.

The space agency already is looking ahead to the next shuttle flight to the orbiting station. Endeavour will be moved to the launchpad today in preparation for a March 11 liftoff.

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