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Shuttle ready to leave station; astronaut has been there 4 months

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – The crews of the space shuttle and International Space Station said a teary farewell, then sealed the hatches between them Sunday after more than a week of working tirelessly together to build a bigger and better scientific outpost in orbit.

Atlantis was scheduled to undock early Monday, its load considerably lighter than when it arrived Feb. 9 with Europe’s Columbus space laboratory.

Astronaut Daniel Tani was especially emotional as he left the International Space Station, his home for the past four months.

Before floating into Atlantis for his long-overdue ride home, Tani paid tribute to his mother, Rose, who was killed in a car accident while he was in space – “my inspiration” – and his wife, Jane, who “had the hard work while I was having fun.”

“I can’t wait to get back to her and my two little girls,” he said.

He also saluted his two female commanders, the space station’s Peggy Whitson and Pamela Melroy, who delivered him to the orbiting complex back in October.

“If we were toasting, if we were in Russia, this would be the third toast,” Tani said, “the toast for the women in our lives.”

Just before the seven shuttle crewmen departed, Whitson said: “All right, you guys, it’s been great having you here.” The astronauts hugged one another and wiped away tears.

NASA aims to wrap up Atlantis’ successful 13-day mission with a landing Wednesday.

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