Astronauts Payette and Thirsk call latest space mission a success

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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LONGUEUIL, Que. - Canada's Julie Payette says she'd jump at another chance to visit the International Space Station but for now she's looking forward to seeing her family.

"This laboratory is so extraordinary that even in the 12 days we've been here I don't even know the half of it," she said Sunday during a news conference with the other astronauts in the station's Destiny Lab.

"Yes, I wish I could stay a little longer but I have a little one waiting for me back home."

Payette, fellow Canadian Robert Thirsk and 11 other astronauts currently at the space station answered questions from reporters around the world, including Canada, in a satellite hookup.

On Tuesday, the shuttle is due to undock and return to Earth with Payette and six others astronauts aboard. Thirsk has already spent seven weeks circling the Earth and performing a number of experiments, which include studying the effects of weightlessness.

He is spending six months on the giant orbiting space lab and is due to return in November.

Meanwhile, he will help host Quebec billionaire Guy Laliberte when the circus entrepreneur becomes the first space tourist aboard the space station this fall.

He says that Laliberte will bring a dose of artistic skills currently lacking in the scientifically minded crew.

"As astronauts, we have the responsibility to share these experiences with the public," he said.

"I'm hoping he will be able to communicate the experience of living and working in space. It's an incredible experience and the entire world needs to share in this."

Thirsk also brushed off a suggestion that Canadians were not pulling their weight in space because they always hitch rides into the heavens on foreign shuttles.

He noted that Canada plays a critical role in space exploration, despite being the smallest member in the space station partnership.

"The space station could not be assembled and could not be maintained without the Canadian robotics systems," he said.

"We can't afford to have launch systems like some of the larger space-faring countries do."

Later, he highlighted Canada's pioneer spirit and the country's history of exploration.

"In a real sense, Canada is a country founded by explorers," he said.

"Canada should be a leader by heritage, by competency in world exploration. I hope that we will partner with the space-faring nations of the world to go to that next destination, whether it's the moon or Mars. It's imperative."

He also reflected on the changes to one of his favourite views from space - British Columbia's mountains - since his last space flight.

"It's probably just a perception but I have a feeling that the glaciers are melting," he said .

"The snow capping the mountains is less than it was 12 years ago when I flew last time. That saddens me a little bit. Most times when I look out the window I'm in awe but there are some effects of human destruction of the Earth as well."

Payette took the time to rave about the competence and hospitality of her colleagues aboard the space station.

"This international collaboration is, in a way, a new era," she said.

"In space, as you orbit the Earth and see the continents below, you don't see borders."

The fifth and final spacewalk of the mission is to begin Monday morning and is expected to last six-and-a-half hours.

The crew of the space shuttle Endeavour will then begin preparations for their return to Earth and are slated to land near the NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Friday.

Organizations: International Space Station, Destiny Lab, NASA Kennedy Space Center

Geographic location: Canada, Quebec, Mars British Columbia Florida

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