CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- After a record-setting six-month stay, three men moved out of the international space station and into the newly arrived space shuttle Endeavour.
"Our ride home is here," said space station astronaut Daniel Bursch.
Endeavour delivered a fresh three-person crew to the space station on Friday to relieve Bursch, Carl Walz and their Russian commander, Yuri Onufrienko.
Bursch was so excited to see Endeavour that he rang the ship's bell and announced the shuttle's arrival seven minutes early. Then Walz jumped ahead in the hatch-opening procedures and was asked to wait.
When all the hatches finally swung open, no one on Earth could see the exchange of greetings because of interrupted communication coverage. Hours later, the astronauts beamed down video of the event that showed a flurry of handshakes, backslaps and embraces.
Bursch, Walz and Onufrienko moved into the space station in early December and did not expect to stay so long. Robot-arm problems at the space station and then shuttle launch delays added more than a month to their stint in orbit.
Replacing them aboard the space station were two Russians and one American, astronaut-biochemist Peggy Whitson, only the second woman to settle in.
As cosmonauts Valery Korzun and Sergei Treschev checked out their new 240-mile-high home, they received calls from their sons, who were watching from Russian Mission Control outside Moscow.
"We just wanted to say that we're very happy that you finally got where you were going," said Korzun's 23-year-old son, Nikita.
On behalf of both cosmonauts' families, he thanked shuttle commander Kenneth Cockrell for safely delivering their fathers and wished him good luck on the rest of the mission.
"I'll try to do better than I did in Moscow while falling on the ice," Cockrell joked.
Endeavour will remain at the space station for eight days, during which the shuttle astronauts will conduct three spacewalks, one of them to fix the wrist on the space station's robot arm.
By the time Bursch, Walz and Onufrienko return to Earth aboard Endeavour on June 17, they will have spent 194 days in space -- a U.S. record.
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