Before heading home, astronauts get to relax

Published September 17, 2006

CAPE CANAVERAL - With their hardest tasks behind them, space shuttle Atlantis' six astronauts got time to relax Saturday after almost a week of nonstop work adding a new 17½-ton addition with winglike solar power panels to the international space station.

NASA even let the crew sleep an extra hour before waking them with Jimmy Buffett's beach song Twelve Volt Man.

"We said good morning to them, then a little housekeeping and then left them alone, gave them a chance to enjoy their time on orbit and wind down," said flight director Paul Dye.

The astronauts said they were grateful.

"We've been very, very busy so the chance to sleep in was very much appreciated," rookie astronaut Heide Stefanyshyn-Piper said.

Saturday was the last full day at the space station for Atlantis' crew. Besides relaxing and enjoying the view from 220 miles above Earth, they still had to unload supplies for the space station, including 90 pounds of oxygen.

The Atlantis astronauts were to say their goodbyes to the space station's three crew members and undock early today. Once undocked, the crew planned to fly around the space station to get the first complete view of the orbiting space lab in several years.

"We're leaving it in an entirely different configuration than it was when we arrived," said Atlantis pilot Chris Ferguson. "So it would be very good ... to get a good look at the overall configuration and condition of the station."

The Atlantis crew delivered the addition and, during three space walks, hooked it up so the 240-foot solar energy arrays could be opened. The arrays will provide a quarter of the space station's electricity when it is finished in 2010.