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Sat, Sep 16, 2006

With Third Spacewalk Complete, Atlantis Prepares To Undock From ISS

Station's Crew Won't Be Lonely For Long

Astronauts onboard the shuttle Atlantis -- docked with the International Space Station since early Monday -- are three-for-three... and now, they're preparing to leave.

Astronauts Joe Tanner and Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper successfully conducted the third and final spacewalk of STS-115 Friday, wrapping up a 6-hour, 42-minute excursion to prepare the station's newly installed P3/P4 truss segment for operation.

NASA reports the pair -- who conducted the first spacewalk on Tuesday, as well -- also completed other tasks devoted to the assembly and maintenance of the station. The spacewalk came to a close at 12:42 pm EDT Friday.

Shortly after beginning the spacewalk at 6:00 am, Tanner and Piper (shown below, photo courtesy of NASA) retrieved a materials exposure experiment from the station’s exterior and performed maintenance on the P6 truss. The spacewalkers then moved to the P3/P4 truss, where they prepared a radiator for deployment.

Flight controllers unfurled the radiator -- which will help cool the station, by extracting heat and venting it into space -- at 9:11 am.

Tanner and Piper also installed a wireless TV antenna on the station and replaced a faulty antenna assembly on the S1 truss. Near the end of the spacewalk, Tanner and Piper conducted a test to evaluate infrared video of Space Shuttle Atlantis’ wing leading edge. They also performed get-ahead tasks that were slated to take place on future spacewalks.

Mission Specialist Dan Burbank coordinated spacewalk activities, and Mission Specialist Steve MacLean oversaw station robotic arm operations. During this mission, MacLean became the first Canadian astronaut to operate the arm built by his home country.

After a busy week of challenging construction work, the shuttle Atlantis and her crew will now prepare to undock from the ISS, and begin their journey home. Undocking is set for 8:50 am EDT Sunday -- followed shortly by a flyaround, that will reveal the station's new configuration in full view for the first time.

Atlantis is scheduled to land at Kennedy Space Center early Wednesday morning, September 20, at 5:57 am EDT... about five hours after the next visitors to the ISS (shown below) are due to arrive at the station.

Expedition 14 Commander Michael Lopez-Alegria and Flight Engineer Mikhail Tyurin are scheduled to launch from Baikonur Cosmodrome atop a Soyuz rocket on September 18 at 12:09 am EDT, and arrive at the station at 1:24 am September 20.

The duo will replace Expedition 13 Commander Pavel Vinogradov and NASA Science Officer Jeff Williams, who are wrapping up a six-month stay on the station. European Space Agency Astronaut Thomas Reiter will stay on the station and join Expedition 14.

As Aero-News reported, also flying to the station will be American Anousheh Ansari, the first female spaceflight participant to visit the orbiting laboratory. She is flying under contract with the Russian Federal Space Agency, and will return to Earth with the Expedition 13 crew.

(Editor's Note -- We can't go into details just yet... but watch ANN in the coming days for something REALLY cool in regards to Ansari's flight.)

FMI: www.nasa.gov

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