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Station Not ‘Home Sweet Home’

The astronauts who just returned from the international space station say it won't be a true home until the first occupants add their own personal touches.

"Basically, right now it's like a house with no decorations," astronaut Edward Lu said Thursday. "The thing that makes your personal home your home is the fact that it's got your pictures, your mementos and stuff like that."

Space shuttle Atlantis' seven astronauts and cosmonauts flew back to Houston on Thursday, one day after ending a successful mission to outfit the space station. Once Discovery hauls up more space station parts early next month, then the first permanent crew will be clear to go.

"One thing that each crew member needs to bring with them is a little touch of home to remind you of what you've left behind," said Atlantis' pilot, Scott Altman. "That will be the touch that turns things from a house into a home."

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The shuttle astronauts left behind some notes and other small surprises for Shepherd and his crew, but would not divulge details.

The freshly stocked space station was soaring 240 miles above the Atlantic when Atlantis touched down. The station's first residents — American astronaut Bill Shepherd and Russian cosmonauts Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev — are scheduled to blast off Oct. 30 from Kazakstan. They will arrive at the orbiting complex two days later for a four-month stay.

"We had a great time," commander Terrence Wilcutt said after inspecting his ship. "We're all glad to be back."

Wilcutt and his crew spent eight days at the space station, five of them inside. By the time they left Sunday night, they had hauled in and tucked away 3 tons of equipment.

Among the supplies: shampoo, cream, shaving gel, moist towels and napkins, Russian and American meals, ear plugs, medical kits, labels, printer parts, clamps, brackets, camera equipment and small bags for the first permanent crew to use to relieve themselves in case the toilet jams.

The shuttle astronauts also installed the toilet, oxygen generator and treadmill in the new living quarters, and ran power and TV cables up the outside.

Getting an extra day helped. NASA stretched the mission to 12 days to give the astronauts and cosmonauts more time inside.

The only disappointment was with one of five new batteries that were plugged into the Russian modules. It would not charge properly and was disconnected; the first residents will deal with the problem when they arrive.

Another shuttle crew is scheduled to depart for the space station on Oct. 5 aboard Discovery, making NASA's 100th shuttle flight. As for Atlantis, it will return to the space station in January, carrying the first lab module named Destiny.

Space station assembly is expected to last until 2006.

"There's a lot of work that has to be done," cautioned NASA
Administrator Daniel Goldin. "We're only 800,000 pounds more to go to orbit."

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