Payette headed back to Earth

Julie Payette will help conduct an inspection of the Space Shuttle Endeavour on Wednesday before she and its crew head back to Earth, completing her second-ever visit to the International Space Station.

Canadian Space Agency astronaut Julie Payette

Canadian Space Agency astronaut Julie Payette

LONGUEUIL, Que. — Julie Payette will help conduct an inspection of the Space Shuttle Endeavour on Wednesday before she and its crew head back to Earth, completing her second-ever visit to the International Space Station.

“She’ll be responsible for part of the inspection,” said Mathieu Caron, a flight controller at the Canadian Space Agency. “She’ll be driving the Canadarm 2 and the inspection boom for a portion of the inspection.”

During re-entry on Friday, Payette will help the pilot and commander of Endeavour as it heads to a landing in Florida.

The mother of two bid farewell to fellow Canadian astronaut Robert Thirsk on Tuesday before the shuttle uncoupled from the space station, winding down the first collaboration between two Canadians in space at the same time.

Payette was the first Canadian to visit the space station back in 1999, when it was a more bare-bones operation than it is now.

During this most recent mission, the 13-person crew made improvements to the giant orbiting lab, conducted experiments and did maintenance.

“Endeavour on the big loop — tally ho,” an Endeavour crew member radioed to NASA mission control as the space shuttle passed over Houston, Tex., after undocking from the station.

The departure was broadcast on NASA TV and was also beamed live to the Canadian Space Agency in Longueuil, near Montreal.

Payette arrived on the space station about two weeks ago but Thirsk has already spent seven weeks circling the Earth and performing a number of experiments, including studying the effects of weightlessness.

He will spend a total of six months on the station and is slated to return in November. Before that, he will help Quebec billionaire Guy Laliberte when the Cirque du soleil founder becomes the latest space tourist.

The withdrawal of the shuttle from the space station on Tuesday looked like a ghostly ballet as the hulking spacecraft pulled away, framed against the wispy white clouds and deep blue seas of the Earth below.

“We’d like to bid you farewell and fair sailing,” a transmission from an Endeavour crewman to the space station said, giving thanks to the station crew for their help and hospitality.

A space station crewman wished the Endeavour “Godspeed” in its return to Earth, adding the station “seems awfully big without you.”

The Endeavour is due to land in Florida on Friday.

The shuttle almost looked like a shark skimming the surface of cloudy water as it passed under the space station in a circuit that gradually moved it away from the lab, travelling at what looked like incremental distances to the naked eye.

Images of the departure were transmitted to Earth from the shuttle and the space station.

Very little was said between the ground controllers and the astronauts, with information on the progress of the flight being made in short bursts of calm, almost monotone conversation.

Locations were noted, with controllers announcing when the spacecraft passed over several U.S. states, Mexico, the Equator, Ireland and parts of Canada including Quebec.