International Space Station crew, 24 Nov 2009
International Space Station crew, 24 Nov 2009

Astronauts aboard the orbiting space station and the shuttle Atlantis spent most of the day relaxing after long hours of unloading cargo and working on building the International Space Station.  The astronauts spent some time November 24 talking to reporters about the latest mission.  The shuttle Atlantis will undock from the space station on Wednesday, and seven astronauts will return to earth on Friday. 

It has been a busy time in outer space for the astronauts aboard the shuttle Atlantis and on the International Space Station.  Over the last few days, they have done a great deal of work on the orbiting outpost during three spacewalks.

Dr. Robert Satcher and Randolph Bresnik are among the crew who worked for hours to install an enormous oxygen tank for the space station.  Atlantis delivered nearly 13 metric tons of cargo to the complex.  After completing the mission, the 12 space travelers took a break to talk to the media.  Astronaut Bresnik told reporters it was not hard to concentrate on the spacewalks after learning his wife had given birth to a baby girl.

"We had been training long and hard for the mission, and we knew the baby was coming so it was easy to go on and do my tasks," said Bresnik. "And then I had some free time, and I was able to see the pictures of the baby and call down.  It was just wonderful to find out the news and to be able to see her for the first time."

Shuttle Atlantis seen from the International Space
Shuttle Atlantis seen from the International Space Station

At 400 kilometers above the earth, cameras on board the shuttle took pictures of the space station.  The complex is being built with the support of 15 nations and space crews from around the world.  Mission Specialist Leland Melvin.

"Last night when we had dinner, we all kind of sat down, and Frank pulled out some Belgium food, and we had all different kinds of Russian food," said Melivin. "We all kind of sat down and reflected on the mission, and it was a good moment."

Food was also on the mind of astronaut Nicole Stott, who is returning to Earth after living on the space station for the last three months.

"Pizza has been sounding really good and a Coca Cola," she said.

The International Space Station was originally scheduled for completion in 2006, but unpredicted expenses created major delays.  Now the pace of construction has picked up as crews assemble more sections of the station.  The U.S. space shuttle has brought most of the supplies to the station.  U.S. officials plan for the shuttle to fly its last mission in September 2010.  Russian rockets carrying cargo will then bring the remaining materials needed to finish.  Canadian astronaut Robert Thirsk has spent the last six months on the space station.  He says the best is yet to come.

"The space station now is nearly complete, and if you think that you have seen some pretty interesting expeditions aboard the space station, you ain't seen nothing yet," he said. "We are entering the golden era of the International Space Station program, and science and technology demonstrations are going to take off here."

The space station complex will serve as observatory, laboratory and workshop for astronauts and cosmonauts who live and work there.  It is scheduled to be completed some time in late 2010.