The astronauts on NASA’s next to last space shuttle flight hit the halfway point of their 16-day journey on Tuesday, marvelling over earthly vistas and expressing sadness over Endeavour’s looming retirement.
Endeavour’s six astronauts took it easy on their eighth day in orbit. On Monday, they said goodbye to three colleagues who landed safely in Kazakhstan aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule.
Now there are just nine people, all men, representing the United States, Russia and Italy aboard the shuttle-station complex.
The shuttle astronauts put a new filter into a space station oxygen generator and while getting a little time off, soaked in the view that was more than 200 miles (320 kilometers) below. They sounded like excited children when the French beaches of Normandy appeared at their windows.
Two of the crew will venture out again on Wednesday for the third spacewalk of the mission, to hook up some power cables to the Russian segment of the orbiting outpost. A fourth spacewalk will follow at the end of the week; the astronauts will attach the shuttle’s inspection boom to the space station to give future crews extra reach for potential repairs.
In a series of TV interviews on Tuesday morning, Commander Mark Kelly and his crew said they will be sorry when Endeavour’s final voyage comes to an end on the first of June. “It looks like it belongs right here” at the International Space Station, said spaceman Gregory Chamitoff.
This is the 25th flight of Endeavour, the youngest of NASA’s three remaining space shuttles. It was built to replace the lost Challenger and took off for the first time in 1992. Discovery ended its flying career in March. Atlantis will take flight one last time in July to close out the 30—year space shuttle program.