CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., Oct. 15 (UPI) -- The space shuttle Atlantis crew enjoyed their final day aboard the International Space Station Tuesday as an orbital excursion years in the making draws to a close.
The shuttle is scheduled to depart the orbiting outpost early Wednesday and land at the Kennedy Space Center on Friday.
During the week-long stay at the station, the astronauts installed a $390 million, 14-ton segment to be used to mount additional solar arrays to boost the station's power output. The 45-foot-long S1 truss, which protrudes off the starboard, or right, side of the Destiny science laboratory, gives the station a lopsided appearance. Its counterpart, the P1, for port or left side, is due to arrive next month.
"I'm looking forward to putting on the P1 (truss) so we don't have to fly like a crab," said station science officer Peggy Whitson, who has been aboard the station since June as part of the Expedition Five crew.
The station crew is expecting a second round of visitors at the end of the month. Two Russian cosmonauts and a Belgian astronaut are scheduled to deliver a new Soyuz capsule to serve as the station's emergency escape ship. The trio will depart a week later in the station's old Soyuz. The capsules have a six-month lifespan in orbit.
The Soyuz crew departs just a few days before NASA's next shuttle blasts off to deliver the port-side truss and ferry the next live-aboard station crew. Whitson, Expedition Five commander Valery Korzun and flight engineer Sergei Treschev are scheduled to return aboard shuttle Endeavour on Nov. 20, completing a five-month stay in space.
Also on Tuesday, launch pad technicians at the Kennedy Space Center loaded the P1 truss into Endeavour's cargo bay. The seven-member shuttle crew is scheduled to participate in a practice launch countdown later this week, said NASA spokesman George Diller.
Due to heightened security measures, NASA does not release specific dates for key astronaut and spaceship operations.