The Atlantis astronauts tested the ship's re-entry systems Tuesday, played chase with the satellite they launched Sunday and heard from the Soviet Mir space station during their last full day in space.
Winding up a highly successful voyage, shuttle skipper Steven Nagel and co-pilot Kenneth Cameron worked to maneuver Atlantis to within 8 miles of the Gamma Ray Observatory satellite the astronauts repaired and launched Sunday to test a new rendezvous technique that could be used if other systems fail."Just before it got dark, the GRO looked very large and bright," Nagel radioed as the shuttle closed in. Television views from Atlantis showed the satellite as a brilliant "star" against the black backdrop of space.
Earlier, the shuttle pilots fired up Atlantis' hydraulic power system, which has been dormant since launch, and test fired small steering jets to make sure the spaceship will be ready for re-entry and landing Wednesday.
Early Tuesday, Atlantis passed just 62 miles over Mir. During repeated flybys, the astronauts attempted to contact their Russian colleagues with amateur radio gear.
"We did see the Mir space station today, the crew did get a visual observation of it, and attempted to contact them," said flight director Wayne Hale. "The crew heard the Mir space station, but it's not clear that they heard us."