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Shuttle Endeavour departs space station

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Aug 19, 2007
The US space shuttle Endeavour undocked from the International Space Station (ISS) on Sunday for its return trip to Earth, one day earlier than scheduled to avoid any disruptions from Hurricane Dean.

Endeavour cast off from the ISS at 1156 GMT, ending a stay of close to nine days at the orbiting laboratory to continue construction efforts.

Hurricane Dean, a powerful category four storm rolling through the Caribbean, could hit the US coast in Texas on Wednesday, prompting NASA to cut short the shuttle mission by 24 hours.

The first possible landing is set for Tuesday at the US space agency's Kennedy Space Center in southern Florida at 1232 pm (1632 GMT).

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration said on Saturday the early return was planned "in the event Hurricane Dean threatens the Houston area," in the southern state of Texas, where NASA's mission control base at Johnson Space Center is located.

Bringing the Endeavour back on Tuesday would allow mission control to "shut down to prepare for a storm," it said.

After separating from the ISS on Sunday, the shuttle's seven-member crew, which includes two women and a Canadian, carried out an inspection of the spacecraft's heat shield with a high-definition camera and a laser attached to a robotic arm.

On Thursday, NASA decided there was no need to attempt a risky repair to the heat shield because the damage caused by a gash did not present a significant danger.

The concern had been that the 8.75 by 5.0 centimeter (3.5 by 2.0 inch) gash created during the shuttle's launch by a piece of foam could create excess friction as the shuttle hurtles into the Earth's atmosphere at high speeds.

During the mission astronauts have carried out four spacewalks, installed a new piece of the space station's main truss, replaced a defective gyroscope and delivered 2.6 tons of supplies and equipment.

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Hurricane shortens Endeavour mission
Washington (AFP) Aug 18, 2007
Endeavour astronauts sped up a final spacewalk Saturday, as NASA announced it would bring them back one day early, on Tuesday, to avoid disruption to ground operations from hurricane Dean.

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