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Shuttle, station part ways

An Endeavour crew member took this picture of Alpha as it pulled away from the space station on Saturday.
An Endeavour crew member took this picture of Alpha as it pulled away from the space station on Saturday.  

By Amanda Barnett

(CNN) -- The space shuttle Endeavour made a delayed departure from space station Alpha on Saturday, sticking around long enough to boost the station away from some Russian space junk.

Mission Control in Houston, Texas, said it was notified early Friday that a spent Russian rocket upper stage launched in the 1970s could pass within three miles of the station if Endeavour did not perform the engine firing.

With the boost from the shuttle, the space junk should stay more than 40 miles away when it passes the station on Sunday, according to NASA. The 20 minute reboost was successfully performed Saturday morning, raising the station's altitude by about three-quarters of a mile. The station orbits Earth at an average altitude of 245 statute miles.

The station and shuttle crews earlier said their farewells and closed the hatches between the two spacecraft. Endeavour undocked from the station at 12:28 p.m. EST.

Space shuttle Endeavour undocks from space station Alpha (December 15)

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Because of the changes in the departure schedule, Endeavour's crew did not have time to perform the usual full-circle flyaround of the station. Instead, Endeavour flew only halfway around the complex before moving away from Alpha. The flyarounds allow the shuttle crew to examine the station as they pull away.

"It's an opportunity to photograph and document the condition of the station," said Eileen Hawley, a NASA spokeswoman at Mission Control in Houston.

New crew for Alpha

Endeavour is leaving behind a new space station crew of three along with fresh food, supplies, experiments and equipment.

The new crew, the fourth for Alpha, consists of Russian commander Yury Onufrienko and NASA astronauts Dan Bursch and Carl Walz. They are scheduled to stay on the space station until May 2002.

Endeavour will bring home the third space station crew, U.S. commander Frank Culbertson, and Russian crew members Vladimir Dezhurov and Mikhail Tyurin. The trio arrived on Alpha in August.

The U.S. and Russian space agencies rotate command of the space station.

Endeavour currently is scheduled to land Monday at 12: 55 p.m. EST at Kennedy Space Center.


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