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Astronauts ready spaceship for ride home

Their incredibly successful mission nearly over, shuttle Endeavour's astronauts readied their spaceship for Wednesday evening's ride home.
Image: Space Shuttle Endeavour
Space shuttle Endeavour is seen with Earth in the background after undocking from the international space station on Monday.NASA TV / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

Their incredibly successful mission nearly over, shuttle Endeavour's astronauts readied their spaceship for Wednesday evening's ride home.

The seven crewmen accomplished everything they set out to do in orbit. They added another room to the international space station, assembled a giant robot, tested a gooey patch for shuttle thermal tiles, inspected a jammed solar-wing joint, dropped off a shuttle inspection boom and swapped out station residents.

All that remained was re-entry and touchdown, and the weather looked as though it would cooperate.

"You always have a little bit of butterflies when you approach an event like that," commander Dominic Gorie said Tuesday night. "We're certainly not scared about it. But yeah, a little bit nervous about wanting to do it just right, and just like you've been training for.

As has become customary during their 16-day flight, commander Dominic Gorie and his crew got an early start Tuesday on Endeavour's flight systems checkout. Everything tested fine.

Endeavour was returning much lighter than when it blasted into orbit in the early hours of March 11.

The shuttle delivered to the space station the first section of Japan's Kibo lab, a 14-foot, 18,500-pound storage compartment. The actual lab will arrive in May aboard Discovery. Endeavour also ferried up a 12-foot, 3,400-pound robot named Dextre — complete with 11-foot arms — that was provided by Canada.

This NASA handout image received on March 25, 2008 shows the International Space Station on March 24,2008 as seen from the US space shuttle Endeavour. The US space shuttle Endeavour began its trek home to Earth Monday after a record five successful spacewalks and 12 days at the International Space Station where astronauts installed Japan's maiden ISS laboratory. AFP PHOTO/NASA PHOTO/HO =GETTY OUT= (Photo credit should read NASA PHOTO/AFP/Getty Images)NASA

It took three spacewalks to put Dextre together outside the space station. In all, five spacewalks were conducted by the astronauts, the most for a shuttle-station mission. Endeavour spent 12 days at the station, the longest visit by a shuttle.

French astronaut Leopold Eyharts, who moved into the space station last month, was hitching a ride home aboard Endeavour. His replacement, American Garrett Reisman, will remain in orbit until June.

A Japanese astronaut also took part in Endeavour's mission, Takao Doi.