HOUSTON — With hugs and handshakes, shuttle Endeavour's seven astronauts bid farewell to the international space station crew after eating a Thanksgiving meal together of turkey, cornbread dressing and candied yams.
"You've totally fixed us up on the inside and on the outside," station commander Mike Fincke told Endeavour's crew before the hatches between the station and shuttle shut. "You guys were such perfect guests. You left the place cleaner than you found it."
The shuttle was set to undock early today and return to Florida on Sunday, completing a 16-day mission for Endeavour's crew. It delivered a new bathroom, kitchenette, two bedrooms, exercise equipment and a system that purifies urine, sweat and condensation into drinking water. All is needed to double the space station's population to six next year.
Endeavour astronauts also performed four spacewalks to clean and lubricate a jammed joint that rotates solar wings in the direction of the sun to generate power.
The shuttle will bring back Gregory Chamitoff, who lived for six months at the space station. Astronaut Sandra Magnus took his place on the three-person crew after arriving Nov. 16.
Before the astronauts retired to the shuttle for the night, they ate and toasted the holiday, 220 miles above Earth.
"To Thanksgiving. Wishing everyone on Earth, and off Earth, a good Thanksgiving," said Endeavour astronaut Donald Pettit, holding iced tea in a makeshift cup he had made from plastic covers of shuttle reference books.
Astronauts normally drink from pouches using straws to prevent liquids from spilling out in weightlessness, but Pettit wanted to show that they could sip from cups.
Pettit also made an iced-tea toast to future space explorers "just because we're in space and we can."