Originally created 06/05/99

Astronauts prepare for trip home



CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- Discovery's astronauts shifted their attention Friday to the trip home after spending nearly a week getting the international space station ready for its first permanent occupants next year.

The space shuttle is due back on Earth around 2 a.m. Sunday.

Discovery unlatched itself from the international space station Thursday evening after six days of linked flight. The seven astronauts unloaded 2 tons of gear, made electronic repairs and installed mufflers to reduce noise from clattering fans.

The crew's last orbital task was the release of Starshine, a 19-inch sphere covered with 878 small, circular mirrors that were polished by schoolchildren. The satellite, part of an educational program, was to be ejected from the shuttle cargo bay early Saturday.

Students from around the world will track Starshine during the six months it circles Earth. By the end of the year, it will plunge through the atmosphere and burn up.

Discovery and its crew blasted into orbit May 27 and reached the space station two days later.

NASA's next trip to the space station is scheduled for December.