The crew of the U.S. space shuttle Discovery has departed from the International Space Station after a grueling eight days of maintenance work. VOA's Sean Maroney reports from Washington.

The shuttle Discovery undocked from the International Space Station (ISS) Tuesday after a successful eight-day joint mission.

"We have confirmation of undocking. Undocking at 4:10 p.m. central time... Discovery departing," came the announcement from Mission Control.

Pilot Bill Oefelein flew the shuttle halfway around the station before firing the shuttle jets and beginning the trip back home.

Discovery is scheduled to return to Earth on Friday, landing at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Flight controllers will check the shuttle's heat shield Wednesday for damage before re-entry into the atmosphere. There is a slight chance that two small items - a camera and handheld tool - that were lost during the mission's spacewalks could have hit the shuttle while in orbit.

During the shuttle's stay at the station, spacewalking astronauts installed two tons of equipment to the exterior as well as rewired the station's power system.

Mission managers added a fourth spacewalk at the last minute in order to free an old solar array for retraction. The accordian-like array's side guidewires had gotten stuck when managers attempted to fold it shut last week.

Project Manager Kirk Shireman says the work done to the International Space Station during the last year has left it in great shape for future additions.

"Starting next year, we'll have the Columbus module, and we'll be right on the cusp of adding a Japanese module a year from now," he said. "So big changes coming to the ISS"

U.S. Astronaut Sunita Williams is now the newest crew member for the space station. German Astronaut Thomas Reiter is headed home on Discovery after spending six months in orbit.