Houston With hugs and handshakes, shuttle Endeavour’s seven astronauts bid farewell to the international space station crew after they ate a Thanksgiving meal together of turkey, cornbread dressing and candied yams.
“You’ve totally fixed us up on the inside and on the outside,” station commander Mike Fincke told Endeavour’s crew before the hatches between the station and shuttle shut. “You guys were such perfect guests. You left the place cleaner than you found it.”
The shuttle was set to undock early today and return to Florida on Sunday, completing a 16-day mission for Endeavour’s crew. It delivered a new bathroom, kitchenette, two bedrooms, exercise equipment, and a system that purifies urine, sweat and condensation into drinking water. All is needed to double the space station’s population to six next year.
Endeavour astronauts also performed four spacewalks to clean and lubricate a jammed joint that rotates solar wings in the direction of the sun to generate power.
The shuttle will bring back Gregory Chamitoff, who lived for six months at the space station. Astronaut Sandra Magnus took his place on the three-person crew after arriving on the Endeavour on Nov. 16.
Before the astronauts retired to the shuttle for the night, they ate and toasted the holiday, 220 miles above Earth.
“To Thanksgiving. Wishing everyone on Earth, and off Earth, a good Thanksgiving,” said Endeavour astronaut Donald Pettit, holding iced tea in a makeshift cup he had made from plastic covers of shuttle reference books. Pettit also made an iced-tea toast to future space explorers and “just because we’re in space and we can.”
The astronauts spent an off-duty morning talking to friends and relatives on the ground or enjoying a view not too many will ever see.
“Just that ability to look out the window and look down on this beautiful planet that we live on is a source of thanks that we all have,” Endeavour commander Christopher Ferguson said.
Flight controllers in Mission Control also got into the Thanksgiving spirit. They ate Thanksgiving dinners at their consoles and placed an animated turkey on the center’s gigantic electronic map that tracks the space station.
Food taken to space has to be bacteria-free, by treating meats with radiation, dehydrating vegetables or heating other foods up to 250 degrees for a half-hour. The smoked turkey was irradiated and the green beans and dressing were freeze-dried, a form of dehydration. The candied yams and dessert were heated.