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Astronauts wrap up space station work

Discovery’s astronauts wrapped up their few remaining chores at the international space station on Monday, flexing the robot arm for Japan's new lab and opening its attic.
Image: STS-124 and Expedition 17 crewmembers
A "fish-eye" lens on a digital still camera takes a picture of the combined shuttle and station crews. Counter-clockwise from lower left: shuttle commander Mark Kelly, station commander Sergei Volkov, returning station resident Garrett Reisman, station cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, new station resident Greg Chamitoff and Discovery crew members Mike Fossum, Akihiko Hoshide, Karen Nyberg and Ken Ham. Click on the image for a larger version.NASA via Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

The shuttle Discovery’s astronauts wrapped up their few remaining chores at the international space station on Monday, flexing the robot arm belonging to the newly installed Japanese science lab and opening its attic.

The two crews planned on saying “sayonara” Tuesday, with Discovery heading out first thing Wednesday morning.

Shuttle commander Mark Kelly marveled at the low number of problems on the space station construction mission, all of them relatively minor.

“Overall, the mission’s been a great success,” Kelly said. “I certainly have a great crew who’s well-trained, but also a little bit of luck is always involved in this.”

Japan’s billion-dollar laboratory, called Kibo — which means hope — had the door to its attic swung open. The storage closet, in orbit for three months, was attached to the lab late last week.

In addition, Kibo’s robot arm was extended to its full 33 feet (10 meters), with all six joints tested. At the end of the workout, the arm was folded into a long-term resting position.

Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide made sure that his Tokyo-based flight controllers got to see Kibo’s arm in action.

“It was such a pretty view, we just wanted to share it with you guys,” Hoshide said.

Kibo’s arm will be used to handle outdoor science experiments once a porch, the third and final section of the lab, is launched next year. A 7-foot (2-meter) robot arm will be sent up then as well. The sparkling white and blue chamber is the size of a bus, the biggest room at the space station.

Discovery delivered Kibo to the space station a week ago, along with a new space station resident, Gregory Chamitoff. He traded places with Garrett Reisman, who’s leaving after a three-month stay. Chamitoff’s mission will last twice that long.

Chamitoff said when the hatches close between the two spacecraft Tuesday, “that’s going to be the hard moment.”

Reisman, meanwhile, can’t wait to get back to his wife, Simone Francis, and, to a lesser degree, their cat Fuzzy. He’s also looking forward to “a good slice of pizza” and some bread, banned from the space station because of crumbs. He’s had to settle for tortillas in orbit.

“A nice big fat hamburger bun or something like that would be great,” Reisman said at a news conference. “That’s what I think about.”

But adjusting to gravity will take some time, he noted.

“So even though I have visions of stepping off the shuttle and chowing down a giant T-bone steak or something, that’s not going to happen. But eventually it will, and I’m looking forward to that day,” he said.

Landing is set for Saturday.