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Shuttle Altantis Begins Return to Earth After Completing Final Inspection

The U.S. space shuttle Atlantis undocked from the International Space Station Tuesday on the first leg of its trip back to Earth. The Atlantis' seven astronauts are leaving after several days of uncertainty following the crash of critical computers aboard the space station. Astronauts have completed a final inspection of the shuttle's thermal protection system to make sure it is ready to re-enter Earth's atmosphere. VOA Jessica Berman reports.

Immediately after the separation, space shuttle commander Rick Sturckow, nicknamed C.J., bid the newest crew member of the international space station, Clay Anderson, farewell.

"Thank you ISS," he said. "Have a great remainder of your expedition 15. We will see you back on planet Earth. Copy all Atlantis. Godspeed, CJ. Thanks for everything."

The undocking of Atlantis remained on schedule after a tense few days last week in which six critical computers aboard the space station crashed.

The computers control oxygen and water supply to the crew members and are responsible for orienting the space station's position in orbit. The problem meant the shuttle would have had to extend its 13 day mission to assist the space station if the computers were not brought back on line.

The space station's scientists found that a faulty power switch was responsible for the computer failure and final checks of the restored computers were completed Monday.

During four space walks, the Atlantis astronauts installed two new solar arrays to power the space station. They also repaired a shuttle thermal blanket that was damaged during lift-off.

The Atlantis is scheduled to land Thursday at Cape Canaveral, Florida.