It's unpacking day for astronauts at space station

Monday, November 17th 2008, 12:33 pm
By: News 9


Associated Press Writer

HOUSTON (AP) -- Monday was unpacking day for the astronauts at the international space station.

Among the top items to be hauled into the space station: a new toilet and a contraption that purifies urine and sweat into drinkable water at the orbiting outpost.

Using a giant robot arm, Endeavour's astronauts grabbed onto a cargo container in the shuttle payload bay late Monday morning for its installation on the space station. Inside the 21-foot-long canister is almost 15,000 pounds of equipment that will allow the space station to expand from three to six crew members next year -- "the goodies," according to the space station's commander, Mike Fincke.

"It's a big day in front of us," Fincke called down. "We're here to work, and this is the can-do crew."

Endeavour also delivered an exercise machine, kitchenette and two sleeping compartments. Endeavour docked with the space station on Sunday, two days after it launched from Florida.

The shuttle's crew will spend almost two weeks at the outpost, setting up the new equipment and going on four spacewalks to clean and lubricate a solar wing-rotating joint that broke down more than a year ago.

"Things are going exceedingly well," LeRoy Cain, chairman of the mission management team, said Sunday.

Once the hatch opened between the space station and shuttle late Sunday, it looked like a family reunion. The shuttle's seven astronauts exchanged a cacophony of greetings with the station's three crew members, wrapping one another in bear hugs and shaking hands. In a long-standing tradition, a bell was rung at the station's entrance.

Early Monday, Mission Control welcomed the space station's newest resident, Sandra Magnus, to her new home. She traded places with astronaut Gregory Chamitoff, who will return to Earth with Endeavour after six months in orbit.

"Happy to be here," Magnus said.

Analysts on the ground continued looking at images taken during launch and right before Endeavour docked. When Endeavour pulled within several hundred feet of the space station Sunday, shuttle commander Christopher Ferguson guided it through a 360-degree backflip so Fincke and Chamitoff could take close-up photos of its thermal shielding. About 200 digital images will help NASA determine whether Endeavour was damaged during liftoff Friday night.

Shuttle officials initially thought a narrow strip of thermal blanket was yanked off during launch, but images showed the blanket intact. They now think the piece of debris seen after launch likely was a piece of ice, which didn't strike the shuttle.

Shuttle officials can order an extra inspection but won't make that decision until Tuesday. The extra precautions were implemented after the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated during re-entry in 2003 over Texas, killing all seven crew members.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)