Cape Canaveral: After a hectic week in orbit, the astronauts on NASA`s last space shuttle flight got some time off to savour their historic experience.
"This is one of the first days we`ve been able to take a deep breath and appreciate what we`re doing up here," said space shuttle Atlantis` commander, Christopher Ferguson.
Until yesterday, the workload in orbit was so intense that the four astronauts had only fleeting moments of realising "wow, this is really it," astronaut Rex Walheim said in a series of TV interviews.
"But boy, it`s going to hit when we land and wheels stop," he added.
Mission Control allotted plenty of time yesterday for the 10 astronauts aboard the linked Atlantis and International Space Station to linger over the "all-American meal" of grilled chicken and barbecued beef brisket that was packed for them, complete with baked beans and Hostess apple pie.
And while space station resident Ronald Garan Jr tweeted that he "had a great dinner tonight," it wasn`t clear to controllers back on Earth whether the astronauts had eaten the special meal or whether they were saving it for another day.
NASA had urged the public to share in the virtual dinner, publishing the recipes online in advance.
Before kicking back and relaxing, Ferguson said the space station delivery mission was going well and that the back-and-forth cargo hauling was three-quarters completed.
"Atlantis is purring like a kitten," he said. "I think she`s about 25 years or so old, but she performs just like a newborn."