NASA Space Shuttle Atlantis Undocks from Space Station

HOUSTON, Nov. 25 (UPI) — Space shuttle Atlantis and its seven astronauts undocked from the International Space Station at 4:53 a.m. EST Wednesday, beginning the return to Earth.

Immediately after the undocking, shuttle pilot Barry Wilmore maneuvered Atlantis into an orbit circling the space station while station astronauts visually inspected the shuttle’s heat shield for possible damage inflicted during its launch from the Kennedy Space Center.

After completing a full circle around the space station, NASA said Atlantis fired its thrusters twice to depart the station’s vicinity at about 1 1/2 feet per second.

Astronaut Nicole Stott is returning to Earth aboard the shuttle after spending 87 days at the space station as an Expedition 21 flight engineer. Her return to Earth makes STS-129 the final space shuttle crew rotation flight to or from the space station, with only five space shuttle missions remaining. In the future, ISS crew rotations will be handled by Soyuz spacecraft under Russian command.

Atlantis is scheduled to land Friday at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 9:44 a.m. EST.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

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