The crew of the shuttle Discovery, given a "Star Trek" send-off by actor William Shatner, undocked from the International Space Station early Monday to close out an extended assembly and resupply mission - the shuttle's 13th and final visit to the orbital outpost.
With pilot Eric Boe at the controls, Discovery's docking system disengaged from the station's forward port at 7 a.m. ET, as the two spacecraft sailed through orbital darkness above the western Pacific Ocean northeast of Australia, reports CBS News space analyst Bill Harwood.
"Houston and station, physical separation," commander Steven Lindsey called as the orbiter began backing away.
Manually guiding the shuttle to a point about 400 feet directly in front of the lab complex, Boe kicked off a 360-degree fly-around, looping up over, behind and below the space station to capture photographs and video showing a final U.S. module in place, along with a full complement of visiting spacecraft from Europe, Japan and Russia.
"We've been talking about the long history of the space shuttle, and it's a privilege to get the opportunity to undock and do the fly around of the space station," Boe said during a crew news conference earlier this week.
"What's amazing is how big the structure is. Right now, when we're docked, it's more than a million pounds and to actually fly around the vehicle, take pictures and marvel that the majority of the U.S. segment was brought up, piece by piece, by the space shuttle will be truly amazing."
NASA managers earlier asked their Russian counterparts to consider undocking a Soyuz spacecraft for a fly-about to capture views of the station with Discovery attached. But Russian mission managers, citing technical considerations, declined.
Discovery's fly around took a little more than an hour to complete. At 8:09 a.m., the ship's maneuvering jets were fired in the first of two "burns" to break away and leave the area.
"Steve, as you guys are heading home, I wanted to say one last time that we really enjoyed your company on board," radioed Expedition 26 commander Scott Kelly, who is scheduled to return to Earth March 16 aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. "And I'm really proud of what we accomplished together as a team here on the space station. But also, including the larger team in Houston and all the control centers around the world.
"Doing something as complicated as this really takes a team effort and that's, I think, what we've proven here this last week. I'd like to wish you guys a safe rest of your fight and a safe landing. And I will see you all back in Houston here in about a week or so."
"Hey Scott, I couldn't agree more, I think the team effort between our two crews and the larger ground team that planned this and put it all together enabled us to get well over 100 percent of our objectives," Lindsey replied. "It's been a pleasure working with your team and I look forward to seeing you guys. Have safe travels for everybody on board and we will see you in about a week."
"OK, take care," Kelly called. "Station out."
Lindsey, Boe and their crewmates - Nicole Stott, Michael Barratt and spacewalkers Stephen Bowen and Alvin Drew - got in the proper spirit for undocking with a 3:23 a.m. wakeup song from Houston that was voted the second most popular in a NASA contest: the Alexander Courage theme from the 1960s television series "Star Trek."
As with the original, Shatner began with the familiar phrase "Space... the final frontier." But the rest was a tribute to Discovery, making its 39th and final flight since its maiden launch in 1984.
"Space... the final frontier," Shatner said as the music played. "These have been the voyages of the space shuttle Discovery. Her 30-year mission: to seek out new science, to build new outposts, to bring nations together on the final frontier, to boldly go and do what no spacecraft has done before." (You can hear Shatner's wake-up call by clicking on the video player below.)
"And good morning, Houston," Lindsey replied when the music faded. "And that was, I believe, the second most popular selection from the song contest for the space shuttle program and I'd like to thank William Shatner for taking the time to record that special introduction for us."
The song voted most popular in the wakeup music contest - "Blue Sky" by Big Head Todd and the Monsters - will be beamed up to the astronauts Tuesday.
The rest of the shuttle crew's day will be devoted to carrying out a final inspection of the shuttle's reinforced carbon carbon nose cap and wing leading edge panels to look for any signs of impact damage from micrometeoroids or orbital debris since a similar inspection the day after launch.
The astronauts plan to pack up and test Discovery's re-entry systems Tuesday before dropping out of orbit and landing back at the Kennedy Space Center just before noon Wednesday.
A mission status briefing is planned for 1:30 p.m. followed by a Mission Management team briefing at 4 p.m. A compilation of launch video from multiple cameras will be shown on NASA TV at 2:30 p.m. and replayed at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m.