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US Space Shuttle Astronauts Prepare for Return


Astronauts aboard the U.S. space shuttle Atlantis are making final preparations to return home this week. Saturday, they were cleared to leave, following a harrowing week in which all six critical computers on the Russian side of the International Space Station crashed. As VOA's Jessica Berman reports, mission managers want to make sure all of the space station's computers are fully functional before the space shuttle undocks.

Officials of the U.S. space agency NASA say all six computers, and their back ups, are again fully functional. But they want to make absolutely certain those that control the International Space Station's position in orbit are working properly. The space station could lose power if its solar arrays cannot be pointed toward the sun.

Since the computers went down on the Russian Zarya module, the docked space shuttle Atlantis has periodically fired its thruster rockets to help steady the space station.

NASA says the orbiting laboratory will fire its thrusters early Monday to make sure they work the way they are supposed to, independent of Atlantis, according to mission manager Holly Ridings.

"And it will have checked out the communication at a very detailed level; make sure the thrusters are talking to the computers, and prove to us that we have everything we need to undock safely," said Ridings.

If everything checks out, NASA officials have given shuttle astronauts the go-ahead to depart the station on Tuesday and return to the Kennedy Space Center on Thursday.

Mission managers gave the go-ahead after being satisfied with a repair astronauts made on a torn heat blanket on the outside of the shuttle. The thermal blanket protects the vehicle from the heat of re-entry into Earth's atmosphere.

But if problems remain with the space-station computers, mission controllers say Atlantis has enough fuel and supplies to remain docked in orbit for an extra two days.

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