Till next time: Astronauts leave revitalised space station

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The Independent US

Space shuttle Atlantis' astronauts closed up the international space station and flew away after fixing it inside and out.

Space shuttle Atlantis' astronauts closed up the international space station and flew away after fixing it inside and out.

Thanks to their efforts, the space station was running at full strength Friday for the first time in months.

"Atlantis and her crew did wonders for us," said space station flight director Paul Hill.

The shuttle pulled away as the two spacecraft soared over Central Asia. "It sure is spectacular," commander James Halsell Jr. said as he gazed back at the glittering station.

During the six days that Atlantis was docked, the astronauts outfitted the space station with fresh batteries, smoke detectors and fire extinguishers, and a new antenna and crane. The old equipment taken out was either broken or out of warranty.

With the addition of four new batteries, the 1 1/2-year-old space station was restored to full electrical power.

The seven-member crew also gave the space station a badly needed lift to a higher orbit, raising it by almost 30 miles (48 kilometers). It is now as much as 237 miles (381 kilometers) above Earth.

The two Americans and one Russian who will live aboard the space station next year were the last ones out Friday. James Voss, Susan Helms and Yuri Usachev double-checked everything as they floated from the Russian-made section and then the American one.

Before leaving the Russian segment, one of the new smoke detectors went off and Voss had to sniff behind panels to make sure nothing was smoldering. It was a false alarm.

NASA said two of the 10 smoke detectors may be overly sensitive to dust kicked up from the crew's repair work.

To save the astronauts' time, flight controllers turned out the lights for them.

The space station will remain dark and vacant until another shuttle crew arrives with more supplies in September, two months after the launch of Russia's long-delayed service module on an unmanned rocket.

The first permanent residents will move in November, provided the service module is launched on time. But it's already more than two years late and has stalled everything. NASA is working on a substitute module, just in case.

Atlantis is due back on Earth early Monday.

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