The crews of Discovery and the International Space Station closed hatches between the spacecraft in advance of the shuttle's scheduled departure Monday and after the most emotional farewell in 16 expeditions since the outpost opened in November 2000.
Wannabe radio disc jockey Clay Anderson, who has been 'broadcasting' his own version of KISS Radio since he floated aboard the station on June 10, officially handed the reigns over to incoming flight engineer Dan Tani.
He played the Irish folk song "Danny Boy."
Then, in a tribute to station ground support crews on two continents, his family, and by gosh, himself, Anderson said an emotional goodbye after five months in orbit.
"So, ah, today is my last day aboard the International Space Station -- Alpha. About five months ago, I was lying on my back in the middeck of the orbiter Atlantis, preparing to launch to orbit for the first time, and wondering what the heck I had gotten myself into," he said.
"And now I'm poised to return to Earth, after having served very proudly onboard this magnificent complex as part of two expedition and three shuttle crews. As my time draws to a close here, I'm filled with a lot of different emotions, and I have a lot of blood, sweat and tears that I've left onboard the International Space Station -- it's a very wonderful place," Anderson said.
"So I want to take this time to thank each and every one of you -- you've been my special family down there on the ground for quite some time. And as it's true of family's on Earth, I sincerely believe that we've all created some very fond memories," he said.
"You all have kept me safe. You've shown me unwavering patience and professionalism," he said, pausing as he teared up.
"And you've overlooked my shortcomings, and it's my hope that maybe you even had a few laughs along the way," he said, pausing again, wiping his eyes.
"So what I'd like to say is what we are doing here is very important -- very important for all of humankind. It's worth the risk. It's worth the cost, and you people on the ground are the ones who make it happen," he said.
"So I want you to take pride in your work, and constantly look toward the heavens, for it is there that you will see your future. To all of flight control, training and engineering teams in Houston and Huntsville and Moscow," he added, choking up once again. "I say thank you. You are indeed the best and the finest that our world has to offer."
There wasn't a dry eye in the U.S. Destiny lab.
"Hey Clay we appreciate the words," NASA astronaut Kevin Ford called up from Mission Control. "You're getting a big round of applause from your ground team here, and on behalf of all the ground support teams, great work on your expedition and we're looking forward to having you back here at home."
Anderson then made one last dedication from KISS Radio.
"I probably don't have a second life as a DeeJay, but ah, I'd like to dedicate this song to you guys on the ground, to my family, and to me."
He played "Reunion" by Collective Soul.
A native of Nebraska who called down the names of 597 'famous Nebraska cities" during his stay on the station, Anderson launched June 8 aboard Atlantis and will return to Earth next Wednesday aboard Discovery.
He joined the station crew as a flight engineer the day he arrived at the outpost -- June 10 -- and he was relieved of his station duties Oct. 25 -- the day the Discovery crew, with his replacement, Dan Tani, arrived at the complex.
Anderson spent 137 days as a member of the station crew.
His total time in space if Discovery lands as scheduled next Wednesday: 152 days.
Discovery is scheduled to undock from the station at 5:32 a.m. EDT Monday. Remaining onboard the outpost: station commander Peggy Whitson, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko and Tani.
Discovery and its crew are scheduled to land at 1:02 p.m. Wednesday at Kennedy Space Center.