Monday, July 18, 2011

STS-135: Packing for trip home

ISS camera shows Raffaello cargo module in shuttle cargo bay.

Just about an our ago astronauts used the robotic arms to disconnect the Raffaello logistics module from the ISS and attach it back into the cargo bay of shuttle Atlantis. The Raffaello is packed with finished experiments and garbage that is designated for return to Earth for studies.

Raffaello at the end of the CanadArm 2.

Final supplies have been stored and prepared aboard the space shuttle and all systems are ready for undocking this morning. The last step is to perform a final shuttle undocking ceremony for the cameras and then close the hatch. The ISS crew gave astronaut Mike Fossum of the Atlantis crew a model of the shuttle, representing a small monument if you will, in honor of all those whose spirits soared with the shuttle on each flight. Another item passed along is a special flag, which had originally flown on the very first shuttle mission, STS-1 with shuttle Columbia. The challenge to the ISS astronauts is that it should be returned on the next US spacecraft to visit the ISS, hopefully not too far away in our future. The flag was presented to astronaut Ron Garan.

Closing Ceremony.

The closing ceremony was fairly touching, besides the exchange of momentos, there were words of thanks and congratulations on a mission well done. The ISS now stands ready to begin its lonely vigil in the outpost of Earth Orbit, with only cargo pods and Soyuz ferry rockets to look forward to. We will miss the shuttle and its unique ability to transfer huge cargos and pieces of the station. Not only that, but the shuttle offered the only other airlock useable for conducting maintenance spacewalks and offered unique safety capabilities for the station.

In the airlock tunnel, ISS astronauts close the Atlantis hatch.

With the end of the ceremony, the crew of Atlantis floated through the hatch and the ISS astronauts helped them secure the airlock. Atlantis will depart from ISS tomorrow.

Ron Garan closing the hatch in Node 2 airlock on ISS. The special Flag is affixed to the hatch out of picture.

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