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Shuttle mission to space station extended

The collective crews of the incoming and outgoing Alpha missions as well as the shuttle Endeavour.  

By Richard Stenger
CNN Sci-Tech

(CNN) -- The residents on the international space station were poised to relinquish command of the orbiting outpost on Tuesday, but the seasoned space explorers will remain in space longer than they expected.

The space station trio, which has lived on Alpha since August, must spend an extra day in their floating home before returning to terra firma.

The Alpha crew, composed of one American and two Russians, plan to return to Earth on the space shuttle Endeavour, which will undock from the space station on Saturday instead of Friday as expected, NASA managers decided Tuesday.

The extension will give the old and new Alpha crews as well as the four Endeavour astronauts more time to move equipment and supplies between the two vessels, but forced NASA to push back the shuttle landing to Monday at the earliest.

"As the guys will soon find out after we leave, they'll have their hands full every day," outgoing Alpha skipper Frank Culbertson said during a Tuesday news conference.

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Culbertson was to take part in a ceremonial changing of the guard on Tuesday, but the event was postponed until Thursday in light of the extended mission.

The new Alpha residents, Russian commander Yuri Onufrienko and his U.S. crew mates Daniel Bursch and Carl Walz, expect to live on the space station for almost six months.

Earlier Tuesday, all 10 space travelers marked the three-month anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks on the United States.

"It was almost impossible to believe. A few minutes later, we flew past New York City and saw the effect of that attack," said Culbertson, a friend of one of the American Airlines pilots who died in the deadly hijackings.

When Endeavour returns, relatives of the victims will receive thousands of miniature U.S. flags that flew onboard during the almost two-week mission.

On Monday, two Endeavour astronauts performed maintenance work on the Alpha exterior. During a four-hour spacewalk, Linda Godwin and Daniel Tani placed thermal blankets around motors that move Alpha's giant solar wings toward the sun.

If the covers fail to stop unanticipated power surges and stalls, then astronauts could be called upon to replace the motors next year, according to NASA.



• NASA Human SpaceFlight

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