Astronauts wrap up space station work, NASA braces for hurricane

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - Space shuttle Atlantis' astronauts wrapped up work inside the international space station on Saturday, leaving the place ''pretty homey'' for the first permanent crew.

''It's going to be sad to say goodbye,'' Daniel Burbank said from the orbiting complex.

Atlantis will undock from the space station late Sunday night, ending an eight-day visit.

At the shuttle's launch and landing site, meanwhile, NASA braced for Hurricane Gordon, churning out in the Gulf of Mexico and heading toward Florida.

Kennedy Space Center workers 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.

The approaching storm boded ill for Atlantis, too. Atlantis is scheduled to land early Wednesday at Kennedy Space Center - weather permitting. The shuttle has enough fuel to stay up until Friday.

''The weather, looking toward the cape, seems to be headed in the wrong direction,'' said flight director Phil Engelauf. ''But I would also caution that this far in advance it's real difficult to predict.''

The seven men in orbit installed a treadmill inside the space station and hauled over more supplies for the first full-time residents, who are supposed to arrive in just six weeks.

''It's pretty homey in here actually,'' said astronaut Edward Lu. ''I think it will be a real nice place to live.''

Lu and two of his crewmates spent most of Saturday erecting the treadmill inside the new living quarters, Zvezda, Russian for Star. The job took longer than planned because of a poorly fitting alignment pin.

The treadmill had to be mounted in a vibration-absorbing cage in the floor.

Space station residents will have to run on the treadmill almost every day to keep their muscles and bones strong in the weightlessness of space. The vibrations, if imparted to the space station, could spoil sensitive science experiments.

By Saturday, the astronauts and cosmonauts had carted 4,300 pounds of supplies into the space station from Atlantis and another 1,300 pounds of gear from a docked Russian cargo ship.

All that remained, before the hatches between the shuttle and station slammed shut early Sunday, were a few minor tasks.

''Just working as a team, we've been able to get everything accomplished that we set out to do up here,'' said pilot Scott Altman.


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