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Shuttle Crew Prepares for Flight Home

<i> from Associated Press</i>

With their successful visit to Russia’s orbiting station now space history, Atlantis’ astronauts focused on today’s ride home and the celebration awaiting them.

“We ought to start working on a pretty sizable party,” shuttle commander Kenneth Cameron said Sunday.

“It’s in works,” replied Mission Control.

Three key players will miss the party--the two Russians and one German aboard space station Mir. They have 3 1/2 months remaining in their six-month mission and hope to catch up with the shuttle astronauts in the spring.

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Good weather is forecast for Atlantis’ scheduled 9 a.m. PST landing at the Kennedy Space Center.

For the first time since their docking mission began Nov. 12, the five astronauts did not have to rush or worry about Mir. They spent their last full day in orbit packing away all the equipment they had carted over from Mir during the three days the spacecraft were docked together.

They toted nearly 200 science experiments and other U.S., Russian and European items. Nearly 300 items were lugged in the opposite direction for the Russians.

The biggest by far was the 15-foot, 9,000-pound docking tunnel carried up by Atlantis and attached to Mir. The Russians built it to make Atlantis’ next five dockings safer and easier; its first tryout will be in March.

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As for this mission, Wednesday’s docking with Mir--and Saturday’s undocking--could not have gone better.

“You guys have been a wonderful crew to work with,” Mission Control radioed near the end of the astronauts’ workday. “You’ve been a lot of fun, did an incredibly good job, and we wish you a smooth and safe ride home.”


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