The crew of the space shuttle Discovery has beaten the clock and unloaded tons of new supplies for the international space station ahead of schedule. In the meantime, the outgoing Russian commander of the outpost is eager to get home after five-and-a-half months in orbit.
Outgoing Russian commander Yuri Usachev and astronauts Jim Voss and Susan Helms are spending the next few days familiarizing incoming U.S. commander Frank Culbertson and cosmonauts Vladimir Dezhurov and Mikhail Tyurin with their new surroundings.
Mr. Usachev told journalists he is ready to go home after almost six months in orbit. His stay was lengthened by one month when problems with the station's robot arm delayed the previous shuttle visit, postponing Discovery's mission until last week.
"Six months is a long time," he said. "I had a very good mission and a very good crew, but, you know, after five months, it's time to go home because we have a lot of people waiting for us our family, our friends."
But as you might expect, his replacement is as eager to be in space again as Mr. Usachev is to go home. After two shuttle flights in the 1990s, Frank Culbertson was desk-bound for eight years helping manage the space station program, but is now finally living and working in the facility he has helped bring about.
He denied his current assignment is a reward for his previous duty, saying "it's not part of any kind of deal and I certainly didn't expect it to happen the way it did. But I was very fortunate to be assigned to this expedition and I'm very, very happy to be back in space. It's a place I enjoy being very much. I feel very much at home here."
As the new station team settled in, the shuttle crew quickly transferred more than three-thousand kilograms of equipment, food, and supplies for the new expedition from a big Italian cargo carrier flown up on Discovery.
They finished the chore in just one day, faster than scheduled. But the astronauts must still fill the bin with station refuse and used equipment for return to Earth next week, when the old station team gets its land legs back again.