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2/19/2010
02:44 PM
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Apollo 11 Moon Rock Returns To Space

Shuttle crew places sample from 1969 mission aboard the International Space Station.

A moon rock that was retrieved from the lunar surface by Apollo 11 crewmembers and later carried to the top of Everest by a mountaineering astronaut is back in outer space, thanks to the shuttle Endeavour.

As part of their final duties on their current mission, Endeavour crew placed the rock, along with fragments from Everest, in the International Space Station's new, windowed cupola.

Endeavour commander George Zamka said the rocky samples, once separated by about 240,000 miles, will serve as "a reminder of man's reach and man's grit," according to NASA.

Astronauts closed the hatch linking Endeavour to the ISS early Friday morning in preparation for the shuttle's trip home. The spacecraft is scheduled to touch down at Florida's Kennedy Space Center at 10:16 p.m. EST Sunday.

The shuttle crew was busy during their mission, which began Feb 8.

They conducted a live Q&A session with President Obama earlier this week, during which Obama asked them what it would take to get humans to Mars.

They also performed an overnight spacewalk to open the cupola observatory on the ISS. The astronauts exited the shuttle Endeavour late Tuesday to begin the 5-hour, 48 minute jaunt, and returned at 3:03 a.m. EST Wednesday.

Outside Endeavour, crewmembers Robert Behnken and Nicholas Patrick removed insulation blankets from the space station's new cupola, a robotic, windowed control station that offers 360-degree, space-front views through seven windows.

Endeavour pilot Terry Virts then opened the windows one at a time while mission specialist Kathryn Hire congratulated the crew for "raising the curtain on a bay window to the world."

Also during the spacewalk, Behnken opened an ammonia loop that's designed to let coolant flow through the space station's new Tranquility module, which houses the cupola, and Patrick connected heater and data cables.

Endeavour's current mission, STS-130, saw the astronauts perform three spacewalks in total to conduct maintenance and repair operations on the ISS. Endeavour is carrying a five-member crew, including commander Zamka, pilot Virts, and mission specialists Hire, Steve Robinson, and Nicholas Patrick.

STS-130 is Endeavour's 24th flight and the 130th for the space shuttle program overall. NASA is cancelling the program at the end of this year, and there are only four remaining missions scheduled through the remainder of 2010.

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