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Astronauts Ready to Leave Space Station

.c The Associated Press

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Sept. 17) - The crew of space shuttle Atlantis began 
sealing up the International Space Station early Sunday, wrapping up six days 
of home improvement projects on the soon-to-be inhabited outpost.

Cmdr. Terrence Wilcutt and cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko backed their way out of 
the station, with 11 hatches to shut on their way. Nearly a week ago, the 
pair were the first to enter the station, which has since been stocked with 
supplies and outfitted with new equipment.

After undocking from the space station around midnight EDT Sunday, Atlantis 
will fly two passes around the complex while the crew snaps a series of 
pictures for study by station engineers back on terra firma.

Atlantis is due to land at Kennedy Space Center early Wednesday, but 
Hurricane Gordon, expected to make landfall on Florida's Gulf Coast late 
Sunday, could interfere with those plans. Atlantis has enough fuel to stay in 
orbit until Friday.

At the shuttle's launch and landing site, NASA rushed to tie down or remove 
loose objects and prepared for a possible rollback of space shuttle Discovery 
into its hangar. Discovery was moved to the launch pad just last week and is 
supposed to lift off Oct. 5 on a space station construction mission.

Atlantis' crew had only a few minor tasks to perform before it left the 

Astronaut Edward Lu checked out a treadmill he helped install Saturday and 
found it was ready for its first workout. The station's permanent crew will 
use it, along with an exercise bicycle and a muscle resistance machine, to 
keep their muscles from atrophying in the weightlessness of space.

The crew also finished transferring some 5,600 pounds of supplies into the 
station. Most of the gear is for the crew - two Russians and an American - 
due to spend four months there beginning in November.

Late Saturday, Wilcutt and pilot Scott Altman fired the shuttle's rockets 36 
times to raise the station's altitude by about three miles, leaving it 239 
miles above Earth's surface. In conjunction with three earlier boosts, 
Atlantis pushed the station's orbit up by about 14 miles.

Earlier in the week, the crew plugged in five new station batteries, added a 
new compass boom outside, laid data and power cables between the exteriors of 
the two Russian segments, and installed two very critical pieces of equipment 
- a toilet and an oxygen generator.

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