Astronauts allowed an extra hour of sleep, get time off, maybe have some fun to explore space

Saturday, September 16th 2006, 9:02 am
By: News On 6

HOUSTON (AP) -- The crew of the space shuttle Atlantis got to sleep in late Saturday and take a half day off after three arduous and successful spacewalks and a jam-packed week in orbit.

For the shuttle crew, Saturday in space began with a surprise extra hour to sleep as Mission Control purposely put off the morning wake-up call by an hour.

When they awoke, it was to the mellow beach-evoking sounds of Jimmy Buffett's "Twelve Volt Man."

Astronaut Dan Burbank, whose family sent up the song, called it "a great way to start a day up here in space."

After a couple of hours of free time, the crew will haul the last of the gear into and out of the international space station. The final packing and unpacking is needed because Atlantis is set to leave the space station Sunday at 8:50 a.m. EDT.

The few hours astronauts get as time off are precious. Not just to rest, but to experience the personal side of weightlessness, space and the cosmos.

At least that's the advice from one of NASA's most experienced flyers, six-time shuttle veteran Story Musgrave.

"You get to explore space and you get to do things that if you are busy you don't get to do," Musgrave said. "Getting to the window is one."

Musgrave said that for every one of his flights he would take his black book with 120 things he hoped to do to explore space on his own. They included looking for auroras, rainbows and the Great Wall of China.

"If you give me some time off, I get to do them," he said.

And that's just looking downward at Earth. Musgrave said astronauts should also look upward to see the galaxies.

"That's part of human spaceflight and you have to go get that," he said. "The play is very serious stuff if you're a serious explorer."