Shuttle Atlantis heads home after successful mission to install Columbus laboratory on ISS

The space shuttle Atlantis left the International Space Station (ISS) to begin its journey back home. Atlantis departed the ISS today and is scheduled to touch down at Kennedy space Center Wednesday morning.

Reuters reports that as Atlantis was cleared to undock Atlantis commander Stephen Frick radioed ISS commander Peggy Whitson to say, “We just want to thank you for being a great host. We had a great time. We learned a lot. Thanks very much.” Whitson replied, “It's a great new room you added on. Get home safe and thanks."

The goal of this mission for the crew of Atlantis was to deliver and install the new Columbus laboratory from Europe. The delivery and installation of the Columbus was delayed for six years partly because of the loss of the shuttle Columbia over Texas in 2003.

The crew of Atlantis completed three spacewalks during the mission. One of the spacewalks was to install a new tank of nitrogen gas to pressurize the stations ammonia cooling lines as well as hooking up two science experiments to the stations exterior reports Reuters.

ISS flight engineer Dan Tani hopped a ride back to earth on the Atlantis to return to Earth after is mission was extended from December to February due to a fuel line sensor problem on the Atlantis. Frenchman Leopold Eyharts took over the ISS engineer post and is slated to return on the Endeavour in March of 2008.

The space shuttle Atlantis was the first shuttle launched in 2007 and was also the first shuttle launched in 2008.

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