Wed, Jun 20, 2007 - Page 7 News List

US space shuttle 'Atlantis` ready for return to Earth

AP , HOUSTON, TEXAS

After a nearly 10-day stay at the international space station that included construction work and a computer meltdown, space shuttle Atlantis was cleared to begin its return trip to Earth.

The shuttle was scheduled to undock from the space station at 1440GMT yesterday, with a planned return to Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Thursday.

Atlantis might have stayed an extra day if engineers had not been happy with a test to see how well the Russian computers that crashed last week can control the orbiting outpost's orientation.

"Monday's test was a success," said Phil Engelauf, chief of the flight directors' office.

"Yes, we think we're back to where we're supposed to be in terms of normal routine operations and reliability," he said.

The shuttle and space station crews said their farewells on Monday before closing the hatches between the two spacecraft in preparation for departure.

"Have a good, safe landing. Until we see you again," International Space Station commander Fyodor Yurchikhin said before the hatches were closed.

During the test, the space shuttle's thrusters maneuvered the joined craft before the space station's computers commanded thrusters on the Russian side of the outpost to take control. US computers then sent commands to the Russian thrusters before the station's gyroscopes took over control.

The computers, which were revived during the weekend, had not commanded the Russian thrusters since last Tuesday, when six computer processors in the two systems started crashing. During the meltdown, Atlantis' thrusters helped maintain the station's orientation.

NASA and Russian managers wanted to make sure Atlantis wasn't needed at the station before leaving.

The computers also control life support systems such as an oxygen generator, temperature and a carbon dioxide scrubber. Except for the oxygen generator, all the space station systems were turned back on during the weekend.

Oxygen for the crews has come from other sources, such as a cargo ship on the Russian side of the station.

Engelauf said engineers were still trying to pinpoint the cause of the computer failure.

Sunita Williams, whose more than six months on the space station set a record for the longest single spaceflight by a woman, is returning on the space shuttle.

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