CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. Their incredibly successful mission nearly over, shuttle Endeavour's astronauts readied their spaceship for tonight's ride home.
The seven crewmen accomplished everything they set out to do in orbit. They added another room to the international space station, assembled a giant robot, tested a gooey patch for shuttle thermal tiles, inspected a jammed solar-wing joint, dropped off a shuttle inspection boom and swapped out station residents.
All that remained was re-entry and touchdown, and the weather looked as though it would cooperate.
"You always have a little bit of butterflies when you approach an event like that," commander Dominic Gorie said Tuesday night. "We're certainly not scared about it. But yeah, a little bit nervous about wanting to do it just right, and just like you've been training for.
"But the Endeavour's in great shape, and we're looking forward to getting back into Florida right before sunset," he said in an interview with The Associated Press.
As has become customary during their 16-day flight, Gorie and his crew got an early start Tuesday on Endeavour's flight systems checkout. Everything tested fine.
Endeavour was returning much lighter than when it blasted into orbit in the early hours of March 11.
The shuttle delivered to the space station the first section of Japan's Kibo lab, a 14-foot, 18,500-pound storage compartment. The actual lab will arrive in May aboard Discovery. Endeavour also ferried up a 12-foot, 3,400-pound robot named Dextre complete with 11-foot arms that was provided by Canada.
It took three spacewalks to put Dextre together outside the space station.
Astronaut Richard Linnehan, one of Dextre's assemblers, said the robot reminded him of something out of one of Arthur C. Clarke's science-fiction novels. Clarke died while the astronauts were in orbit.
But Dextre also struck an Old West pose later in the mission, Linnehan said, with one of its giant arms pointing out into space with a sort of pistol grip.
"It's just kind of stepping in the next age up here in robotics, in terms of having something that's going to actually be out there working and moving things around, other than humans," Linnehan told the AP.
In all, five spacewalks were conducted by the astronauts, the most for a shuttle-station mission. Endeavour spent 12 days at the station, the longest visit by a shuttle.
French astronaut Leopold Eyharts, who moved into the space station last month, was hitching a ride home aboard Endeavour. His replacement, American Garrett Reisman, will remain in orbit until June.
A Japanese astronaut also took part in Endeavour's mission, Takao Doi.As for Eyharts, he's looking forward to tasting all sorts of French food after being off the planet for so long. "But what I'm missing most right now is maybe a small glass of red wine," he said with a smile.
On the Net: NASA: spaceflight.nasa.gov