Image: STS-123 mission specialists
Japanese astronaut Takao Doi (right, upside-down) clowns around with NASA crewmates Robert Behnken (top left) and Mike Foreman aboard the shuttle Endeavour during its visit to the international space station.
updated 3/23/2008 7:59:41 PM ET 2008-03-23T23:59:41

Astronauts aboard NASA's shuttle Endeavour rested and packed up their spacecraft on Sunday for the trip back to Earth, after delivering a new room and robot to the international space station.

Shuttle commander Dominic Gorie and his six crewmates were scheduled to take a half-day off at the space station on Easter Sunday before stowing away tools and moving the last bits of cargo between Endeavour and the orbiting lab.

"It's going to be a beautiful day up here and I hope it is there as well," Gorie told Mission Control as his crew ended their orbital day in space early Sunday morning. "We're trying to convince the station into an Easter egg hunt with some M&Ms, but so far they're not up for tossing around a bunch of those."

Endeavour and its crew are slated to undock from the space station Monday night at 7:56 p.m. ET after 12 days of intense orbital construction work. Endeavour's visit represents the longest docked time yet for a NASA shuttle.

"It's certainly a well-deserved rest for the crew," Dana Weigel, NASA's lead station flight director, said during an early-morning briefing here at the Johnson Space Center.

During their stay, shuttle astronauts constructed a Canadian-built maintenance robot called Dextre, installed an atticlike storage module for Japan's massive Kibo station lab and ferried a new crewmember to the space station.

NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman, who launched aboard Endeavour on March 11, is staying aboard the station to replace French astronaut Leopold Eyharts, who will return to Earth with the shuttle's crew. Eyharts is wrapping up just over a month at the station commissioning the European Space Agency's Columbus laboratory that was installed last month.

"It's amazing how big station is," Reisman said during the flight, adding that the outpost's interior is about the size of a Boeing 767 jet. "It's so big, you actually have to plan how you carry your stuff around because if you have to go back and get something it takes time."

Endeavour's STS-123 crew performed five spacewalks during their mission, setting a new record for a single shuttle flight to the space station. The spacefliers are due to complete their planned 16-day mission with a landing at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 7:04 p.m. ET Wednesday.

"We've been so busy that we haven't seen a lot of the earth going by," Gorie said earlier in the flight.

In addition to the Japanese module and Dextre robot, the spacefliers also primed the station to receive its next visiting shuttle — NASA's Discovery orbiter — in late May by attaching Endeavour's heat shield inspection boom to the orbiting outpost's exterior on Saturday.

Discovery is slated to launch on May 25 with the primary experiment module for Japan's three-segment Kibo laboratory, an orbital room so large it takes up the entire shuttle bay and leaves no room for its own inspection boom, mission managers said.

Engineers on Earth gave Endeavour's heat shield a clean bill of health late Saturday, clearing the spacecraft for its planned Wednesday landing.

Gorie and his crew will pack up their spacewalking tools and other equipment in preparation for their departure late Monday. The astronauts will also transfer last-minute experiment samples to Endeavour, such as tiny seedlings grown by Eyharts in a European experiment to understand how weightlessness affects plants.

Mission Control here at NASA's Johnson Space Center roused Endeavour's crew at 12:28 p.m. ET with the Newsboys song "I Am Free," a tune chosen specifically for mission specialist Mike Foreman and performed by his church's praise team.

"Good morning, Endeavour and Happy Easter to you Mike," NASA astronaut Alvin Drew radioed up from Mission Control.

"Good morning, Houston and thanks Alvin, that's one of my favorite songs from church," Foreman said. "That was awesome, and how appropriate for this special day. It sounds just as good up here as it does down there. Happy Easter."

Drew wished the rest of Endeavour's astronauts a Happy Easter as well, though they were busy at the time.

"They're probably searching for their eggs," Foreman said.

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