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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) – Their mission accomplished despite some “bumps in the road,” space shuttle Atlantis and its crew left the international space station on Sunday and set off for home.

The five shuttle astronauts were sorry to say goodbye to their three station friends, but said they would all get together again – on Earth – in just another month.

Atlantis’ crew is due back at Kennedy Space Center early Tuesday, 12 days after lifting off on the construction flight. Space station Alpha’s residents are due back in August following a five-month stay; another shuttle will bring their replacements.

During the eight days that the two spacecraft flew as one, the astronauts installed a $164 million passageway for spacewalkers, hooked high-pressure gas tanks to it and used it as a base to stage the third and final spacewalk.

The space station is 9 tons heavier after the visit from Atlantis, and also more self-sufficient because of the new air lock. Thanks to this pressure chamber, Americans living aboard the space station can now conduct spacewalks in their own suits at any time, rather than relying on Russian outfits and a tight Russian exit.

“We had a few minor hiccups along the way,” shuttle commander Steven Lindsey said, adding that he was pleased overall. The hiccups included: air and water leaks, a balky valve and a screeching pump, all involving the air lock, and a computer crash elsewhere in the space station.

“Let’s just call them bumps in the road,” noted Lindsey’s co-pilot, Charles Hobaugh. “It seemed like every now and then, we always were faced with a small challenge and the good news is we always seemed to overcome it.”

By the time Atlantis undocked early Sunday, all but two of the leaks in the new air lock had been fixed. A pressure equalization valve may need to be replaced by future crews.

The shuttle and station astronauts exchanged hugs, silver pins and pats on the back before sealing the hatches between them. Atlantis astronaut Janet Kavandi said it was an emotional farewell. “It was sad to leave,” she said.

The “oops” came several hours later.

Space station resident Jim Voss wanted to know if the shuttle astronauts had a particular camcorder – his camcorder – on board. They did. It apparently got switched with one of the shuttle camcorders, which ended up on the station.

“Jim asked me to tell you that it’s not like a pair of slippers,” Mission Control told the shuttle crew. “You have to return things like that.”

“We can go back now and do it if you’d like,” Lindsey joked.

Mission Control’s answer: Not this time.

onthenet

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