A reality check on dreams for space: the repairsThe crews from the shuttle Discovery and the International Space Station had a farewell ceremony today and closed the hatch between the two craft. Discovery will undock tomorrow and prepare for its return to Earth on Wednesday.
It was a blubberfest.
This has been an intense mission - the planned tasks involved some of the toughest technical challenges in the history of the space station's construction process, and included adding a new room to the station, the Harmony module, and moving an enormous solar array and truss from its temporary position on top of the station to its far left side.
Astronaut Scott Parazynski worked along the truss assembly of the International Space Station on Saturday, preparing equipment for mounting on the boom extension.
But beyond those efforts, problems made the mission even tougher. The solar array tore as it was being re-deployed, setting off a scramble to come up with a spacewalk that could repair the tear and get the array functional before the shuttle left. Without that array fully extended and able to be rotated on its own rotary joint, space station construction would have been stalled and upcoming missions delayed.
And on top of that, spacewalkers detected damage to the rotary joint on the right side of the station, one that keeps the right-side solar arrays facing the sun - a problem that will have to be addressed down the road. In a high-risk, high-stakes spacewalk Dr. Scott E. Parazynski fixed the array on Saturday.
So it's no surprise that the farewells are more than a little emotional. Clayton Anderson, who spent 137 days as a space-station crew member and will be coming home on Discovery, kept turning off his microphone as he was overcome with emotion as he thanked the "folks on the ground" - flight-control engineering and training teams in Houston, Huntsville and Moscow. "I say thank you," he said, his voice breaking. "You are indeed the best and the brightest that our world has to offer."
Over the communications loop, there was loud applause from the "folks on the ground."
Mr. Anderson then played the song "Reunion," by Collective Soul. His crewmates swayed to the music (which in zero gravity has to be seen to be believed) as it played, tinny over the orbit-to-ground transmission:
Change will come
Change is here
Love fades out
Then love appears
Now my water's turned to wine
And these thoughts I have
I now claim as mine
I'm coming home
Change has been
Change will be
Time will tell
Then time will ease
Now my curtain has been drawn
And my heart can go
Where my heart does belong
I'm going home
Discovery's commander for this mission, Pamela A. Melroy, also teared up as she thanked the the station commander, Peggy A. Whitson, and the Russian cosmonaut on board the station, Yuri Malenchenko, and said goodbye to crew member Daniel M. Tani, who will stay aboard the station. "We promise we'll send somebody to come pick you up and bring you home," she joked.
"We're family now," she said.
Mr. Tani wiped his eyes repeatedly as well.
Col. Malenchenko made headlines in 2003 during his last stint aboard the station, when he got married from orbit: his bride, Ekaterina Dmitriev, was on earth in the Villa Capri restaurant near the Johnson Space Center. A justice of the peace did the honors; Col. Malenchenko wore a bowtie with his flight suit and was represented on the ground by a paper cut-out.
One can only wonder what the stoic Col. Malenchenko thought of the waterworks from his American crewmates, but when it came time to say goodbye, he gave Mr. Anderson what looked like a real rib-crusher of a hug.
Anyone who wants to see the emotional session can tune in to NASA television, where the farewell ceremonies are replayed as part of the highlights reel that runs on the hour.