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Shuttle Prepares to Return Home as Soyuz Heads to Space Station


Astronauts on the U.S. Space Shuttle Atlantis are preparing to return home after a mission to the International Space Station.

The Atlantis crew packed gear and checked flight controls to prepare for the scheduled landing Wednesday in the U.S. state of Florida. Astronauts plan to touch down early in the morning, but unfavorable weather conditions could force a delay.

The Atlantis crew also participated in a conference call with the crews on the space station and a Soyuz spacecraft heading to the station with the first female space tourist.

The Soyuz spacecraft, which is scheduled to arrive at the station Wednesday, is carrying a three-person crew that includes Iranian-American space tourist Anousheh Ansari.

Astronaut Jeff Williams joked from the space station Tuesday that it was a little crowded in the sky.

During their mission, the Atlantis crew successfully carried out three challenging spacewalks to install a pair of solar wings on the station. It was the first construction mission since shuttle flights were grounded in 2003 after Shuttle Columbia broke apart upon re-entry, killing all seven astronauts aboard.

Monday, the crew of the space station detected a spill of a toxic irritant, potassium hydroxide, which set off a short-lived emergency. NASA says the crew members' lives were never in any danger.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.