Image: Magnus on space station
NASA
NASA astronaut Sandy Magnus flies through the Raffaello module, filled to the brim with supplies, during the final space shuttle mission to the space station.
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updated 7/14/2011 12:25:34 AM ET 2011-07-14T04:25:34

The astronauts making NASA's last shuttle flight turned into moving men and garbage haulers Wednesday with no time to dwell on their place in space history, after enjoying a special salute from the original "Rocket Man," Elton John.

When asked by a journalist how the mission was going, Atlantis' pilot, Douglas Hurley, replied: "I've got one word for you. Really busy."

OK, two words.

In their first news interviews from orbit, Atlantis' four astronauts said they were satisfied to go from Tuesday's last spacewalk of the 30-year shuttle era to more mundane matters — unloading supplies and hauling trash. At least they didn't have to deal with a loud and smelly toilet on the International Space Station; a station resident handled that.

"We've got some great station hosts up here, and we're just trying to get them all stocked up for the next year," Hurley said. "It keeps us so focused that we tend not to, I think, look at the big picture as much."

Atlantis delivered several tons of food, clothes and other household goods. The space station is supposed to operate for another decade, and unmanned craft from multiple countries will keep up supply runs once NASA's shuttle program ends.

Flight director Chris Edelen smiled while quoting space station astronaut Michael Fossum on going from spacewalking to closet cleaning.

"Just 24 hours ago, he was doing the most amazing thing that a human being could possibly do ... to float in the vacuum of space 240 miles above the Earth, and today, he's basically rearranging a closet and his buddy is working on the toilet," Edelen said at a news conference. "So yes, that's all in the life of an astronaut."

Awakened by 'Rocket Man'
In honor of this last shuttle flight, NASA beamed up a prerecorded message by the British superstar, as well as a half-minute of his Apollo-era 1972 song "Rocket Man," which was inspired by space exploration.

"Good morning, Atlantis, this is Elton John. We wish you much success on your mission and a huge thank you to all the men and women at NASA who worked on the shuttle for the last three decades."

"Elton John. Music legend. Wow. That is absolutely fantastic," replied Atlantis' commander, Christopher Ferguson. "I think it just illustrates ... the amount of people globally who have been affected by the shuttle program itself."

"Rocket Man" has awakened previous shuttle crews and was on NASA's Top 40 list of wake-up music for public voting earlier this year. It garnered more than 4,300 votes for 17th place.

NASA hopes to whip up even more interest Thursday by inviting the public to a virtual all-American meal with the last shuttle crew and their station colleagues. The astronauts will enjoy grilled chicken or barbecued beef brisket, Southwestern corn, baked beans and for dessert — Hostess apple pie.

The recipes — "formulations," as NASA's food scientists call them — are online.

Both crews — 10 astronauts strong — spent Wednesday unloading the cargo carrier that flew up on the shuttle. They will fill it back up with station trash and discarded equipment for return to Earth next week.

Space station astronaut Ronald Garan Jr. — Fossum's spacewalking partner — got stuck with toilet duty.

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The stench from the American-made station toilet was so bad Monday that the astronauts had to shut it down as spacewalk preparations were under way; that work was taking place close to the bathroom.

While the smell eased, the toilet had a loud motor noise and poor suction. Flight controllers decided it was time to replace some old equipment.

Controllers believe the odor problem was from the urine-processing system. Urine is recycled aboard the space station into water for cooking and drinking. For now, anyway, it's back to being odor-free. "The (station) crew said they can live with it ... it's just not the kind of thing you want to have when you have houseguests and you have a real busy schedule," Edelen said.

Atlantis' 13-day mission is the last ever for a space shuttle. After that, the three surviving shuttles will become museum displays.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: The final countdown: Shuttle Atlantis

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  1. Atlantis rising

    The space shuttle Atlantis makes its maiden voyage on Oct. 3, 1985, for the Defense Department's STS-51-J mission. At 176,413 pounds, Atlantis is nearly 3.5 tons lighter than Columbia, which was the heaviest shuttle. Atlantis is the lightest shuttle of the remaining fleet, weighing 3 pounds less than the shuttle Endeavour (with the three main engines). Atlantis is also the last space shuttle to be retired.

    Other statistics:
    Length: 122.17 feet
    Height: 56.58 feet
    Wingspan: 78.06 feet (Phil Sandlin / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. First of its kind

    NASA's Magellan spacecraft is deployed from Atlantis' cargo bay in 1989 during the STS-30 mission. The Venus orbiter was the first interplanetary probe launched from a space shuttle. Later that year, Atlantis launched the Galileo probe to Jupiter. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Mission to Mir

    NASA and the Russian space agency kicked off a new era in international space cooperation during the STS-71 mission in June 1995, when Atlantis docked with Russia's Mir space station for the first time. This historic photo of the linked spacecraft was taken from a Russian Soyuz capsule during a fly-around. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Here's looking at you

    The space shuttle Atlantis begins the slow journey to Launch Pad 39A from the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in preparation for the launch of STS-79 in September 1996. This dramatic view, looking directly down onto the shuttle stack, was taken from the roof of the 525-foot-tall VAB. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Science in orbit

    Astronaut Shannon Lucid floats through the tunnel that connects Spacelab to Atlantis' cabin on Sept. 24, 1996. The Spacelab module rode in the shuttle's cargo bay and provided more space for scientific experiments. During this STS-79 mission, Atlantis linked up with Russia's Mir space station and brought Lucid back to Earth. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Lighting up the night

    Atlantis streaks into the early morning sky from NASA's Kennedy Space Center on May 15, 1997, as seen in this long-exposure photo taken from Veterans Memorial Park in Titusville, Fla. Atlantis' 10-day STS-84 mission featured a docking with Russia's Mir space station and a crew transfer. Atlantis docked with Mir seven times before the space station was deorbited in 2001. (Brian Cleary / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Good as new

    The space shuttle Atlantis went back to its assembly plant in Palmdale, Calif., for 10 months of refurbishment and upgrades in 1997-1998. This aerial photo shows Atlantis taking a piggyback ride back to Kennedy Space Center in Florida atop a modified Boeing 747 jet on Sept. 1, 1998. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Checking it out

    Atlantis' upgraded cockpit gets a once-over in 1999 from engineers and executives, including Roy Bridges, Kennedy Space Center's director (seated at bottom left), as well as Laural Patrick, Joann Morgan and George Selina. The upgrades made Atlantis the most modern orbiter in the shuttle fleet, with a control system as advanced as those found on commercial jet airliners and military aircraft. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Tile tune-up

    Izeal Battle, a worker from United Space Alliance, repairs heat-shield tiles on the belly of the space shuttle Atlantis in the Orbiter Processing Facility at Kennedy Space Center on Jan. 30, 2004. (Matt Stroshane / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Back in business

    Atlantis' astronauts leave their quarters at Kennedy Space Center and board the "Astrovan" for the ride out to Launch Pad 39B on Sept. 8, 2006, while gun-toting guards keep watch. A faulty fuel gauge grounded the shuttle for an extra day, but on Sept. 9 the shuttle lifted off on its STS-115 mission to the International Space Station. It marked Atlantis' first launch since 2002. (Jeff Haynes / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Liftoff!

    The space shuttle Atlantis rises on a pillar of cloud from Launch Pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center on Sept. 9, 2006. Atlantis delivered structural components to the International Space Station during its STS-115 mission, resuming an orbital construction project that was stopped following the 2003 Columbia tragedy. (Matt Stroshane / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Mission accomplished

    The clouds of Earth provide a backdrop for Atlantis shortly after its departure from the International Space Station on Sept. 17, 2006. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Night landing

    Atlantis lands amid darkness at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Sept. 21, 2006, bringing the STS-115 space station construction mission to a successful close. (Chris O'Meara / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Kicking the tires

    Atlantis crew members Chris Ferguson and Dan Burbank look over their spaceship after landing at Kennedy Space Center on Sept. 21, 2006. Ferguson was slated to be Atlantis' commander for NASA's final space shuttle mission. (Pierre Ducharme / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Blaze of glory

    The space shuttle Atlantis' solid rocket boosters light up for launch on June 8, 2007, beginning a flight to the International Space Station. This STS-117 mission marked the 250th orbital human spaceflight. (Mark Wilson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Watching the ascent

    NASA mission managers monitor Atlantis' liftoff from Firing Room 4 at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Nov. 16, 2009. During the STS-129 mission, Atlantis delivered a payload platform and vital supplies to the International Space Station. (Bill Ingalls / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Shuttle skywriting

    Nearly an hour after launch, contrails from the shuttle Atlantis' liftoff float above the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on June 8, 2007. (Tim Sloan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Last visit to Hubble

    Spacewalkers Andrew Feustel and John Grunsfeld work on the Hubble Space Telescope on May 16, 2009, during Atlantis' STS-125 mission. This marked the final Hubble servicing mission. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Making a list

    Atlantis astronaut Mike Massimino writes notes on a checklist during the STS-125 Hubble servicing mission on May 18, 2009. During this mission, Massimino became the first astronaut to send a Twitter update from orbit: "Launch was awesome!!" (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. First Family meets Atlantis

    NASA astronaut Janet Kavandi leads President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and their daughters Sasha and Malia beneath the shuttle Atlantis during a tour of the Orbiter Processing Facility at Kennedy Space Center on April 29, 2011. At the time, Atlantis was being prepared for its final flight. (Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Final flight

    Space shuttle Atlantis lifts off from Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 8, 2011. The shuttle fleet's 135th and final mission, known as STS-135, brought supplies to the international space station. (John Raoux / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Witnessing history

    Spectators watch the liftoff of Atlantis on its final mission at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 8, 2011. (Shawn Thew / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Last rendezvous

    The space shuttle Atlantis docks with the International Space Station for the last time on July 10, 2011. The shuttle delivered more than four tons of food, clothes and other supplies to keep the space station going in the post-shuttle era. NASA figures that this shipment will help keep the space station provisioned at least through the end of 2012. (NASA TV) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Flight into history

    This poster pays tribute to the shuttle Atlantis' quarter-century of spaceflight: Graphic elements include the International Space Station and Russia's Mir space station, the Hubble Space Telescope (which Atlantis visited during the last servicing mission) and Venus and Jupiter (which were the destinations for probes launched from Atlantis). Threaded through the design are the mission patches for each of Atlantis' flights. A copy of this tribute poster hangs in Firing Room 4 of the Launch Control Center at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (Amy Lombardo / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. An unprecedented view of the space shuttle Atlantis, appearing like a bean sprout against clouds and city lights, on its way home, as photographed by the Expedition 28 crew of the International Space Station on July 21, 2011. Airglow over Earth can be seen in the background. The Atlantis returned to Earth marking the end of the space shuttle era when its wheels touched down for the last time at the Kennedy Space Centre. 'After serving the world for over 30 years, the space shuttle has earned its place in history. It's come to a final stop,' Atlantis commander Chris Ferguson replied. (Nasa / Handout / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Johnson Space Center employees Shelley Stortz, left, and Jeremy Rea, right, hold hands as they watch space shuttle Atlantis land on July 21, 2011, in Houston. (David J. Phillip / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Space shuttle Atlantis lands at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on July 21, 2011. The Atlantis glided home through a moonlit sky for its final landing at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, completing a 30-year odyssey for NASA's shuttle fleet. (Pierre Ducharme / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Phil Sandlin / AP
    Above: Slideshow (27) Final countdown for Atlantis
  2. Adam Zyglis / Buffalo News, PoliticalCartoons.com
    Slideshow (13) Shuttle era draws to a close

Interactive: Final shuttle mission in focus

Video: One last blast

  1. Closed captioning of: One last blast

    >>> good evening. it was visible in the sky for about a minute and then it was gone. they're in earth orbit now and while the crew is at work, while looking down on all of us from that window, what they can't say perhaps is the 50 years of hit riding along with them. the early test pilots with the right stuff. president kennedy 's outlandi isish challenge to get to the moon, all the disasters along the way and so much of the technology we enjoy today. but times have changed, money is tight we're told and for now we just don't see space as the next frontier as we once did. tonight an old vehicle is on its last few laps and a big part of american life is about to end. we begin our coverage tonight with nbc's tom costello who was lucky enough to watch it blast off at the cape today. tom, good evening.

    >> reporter: mission managers admit they got lucky with the weather, no rain, no lightning, even a last-minute technical glitch didn't keep "atlantis" on the ground. a farewell from the ground teams who have spent 30 years launching shuttle missions.

    >> on behalf of the greatest team in the world, good luck to you and your crew on the final flight of this true american icon.

    >> one more time mike, i witness this great nation at its best. the crew of "atlantis" is ready for launch.

    >> reporter: the 135th shuttle mission thundered off the florida coast on a resupply mission to the space station . while on the ground, three-quarters of a million people gathered to witness history.

    >> i wish them god speed and i'm so proud, i'm glad to have seen them go out.

    >> reporter: but controversy continues to reign over nasa and it's alumni race.

    >> i tell you that i think we're looking at a lost decade .

    >> reporter: a lost decade in space?

    >> that's what i think.

    >> it couldn't be farther from the truth. america has a bright future in space. president obama has committed this nation to moving forward to an asteroid and beyond to mars.

    >> reporter: still some 9,000 people at the kennedy space center are losing their jobs. among them dean petit who has worked on every mission, dating back to 1979 .

    >> i'm not going to be able to say that anymore. but i can always say i did. now that, they can't take from me.

    >> reporter: to make up for the 60,000 income he's losing, he's starting an ecotourism business, spacecoastoutdoors.net. the crew offered a poetic, albeit silent goodbye. meanwhile the launch folks got their own special treat this afternoon. jimmy buffet performed for them once the shuttle was off the pad.

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