CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) - NASA's orbiting astronauts detached
a huge storage bin full of trash from the International Space Station on Monday and loaded it aboard Atlantis for the last shuttle ride back to Earth.
The astronauts used a hefty robotic arm to move the bus-size canister, stuffed with nearly 3 tons of packing foam and other space station refuse.
It was the last job shared by the shuttle and station crews, numbering 10 astronauts altogether. The hatches between the two spacecraft were to be sealed less than two hours later in what was expected to be an emotional goodbye.
"Be sure to give them lots of hugs from all of us!" Mission Control said in a written message to the four shuttle astronauts.
Atlantis will undock from the space station early Tuesday and aim for a pre-dawn touchdown Thursday.
The retirement of NASA's three remaining shuttles has been in the works since 2004, barely a year after the Columbia disaster.
Atlantis will remain at Kennedy Space Center for retirement, going on public display. Discovery and Endeavour will be transported to museums in suburban Washington and Los Angeles, respectively.