Space station residents to fix toilet

June 4, 2008 6:49:01 AM PDT
Residents aboard the international space station were getting ready to take on a new task Wednesday: plumbing.The space station's toilet broke two weeks ago. The problem - confined to the urine side of the commode - has forced the orbiting outpost's crew of an American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts to flush manually with extra water several times a day.

Space shuttle Discovery brought up a new pump for the testy toilet, as well as the space station's newest room, a $1 billion Japanese lab.

The mundane task of installing the 35-pound pump and hoses was to fall to Oleg Kononenko, one of the two Russians, on Wednesday morning. The job was expected to last two hours.

"We'll see (Wednesday) afternoon if that does the trick or if we need to figure out another solution," said Emily Nelson, a space station flight director.

In addition to fixing the toilet, the shuttle and space station crews planned to make power, data, air and water connections on the newly installed lab, named Kibo, which means hope in Japanese.

Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide installed the 37-foot lab on Tuesday, just as two crewmates were completing a spacewalk. He used the space station's robot arm to nudge the bus-sized lab into place.

On Wednesday, Hoshide "will get to turn the module on for the first time. That will be really exciting," Nelson said.

Later in the day, the 10 space fliers on the linked shuttle and station planned to open the doors to the lab and float in.

The long process of installing Kibo began with a spacewalk by Michael Fossum and Ronald Garan Jr. They removed covers and disconnected cables, then handed off to the robot arm-operators inside, who lifted the lab out of Discovery's payload bay and attached it to the space station.

The Japanese lab is bigger and more sophisticated than the two other labs at the space station. It sports a hatch to the outside and a robot arm for sliding out science experiments. A smaller arm will arrive next spring, along with an outdoor porch for holding the experiment packages.

The first part of Kibo - essentially a storage shed - was delivered by the last shuttle crew in March. The astronauts aboard the linked shuttle and station will attach the shed to the lab on Friday.

The lab work was just part of Tuesday's spacewalk, the first of three planned for Discovery's nine-day space station visit.

Fossum and Garan also helped remove a 50-foot shuttle inspection beam from the space station and get it back to Discovery. The boom, usually attached to the shuttle's robotic arm and used to conduct a detailed inspection of the spacecraft's wings and nose, will be checked out Wednesday to make sure its sensors are working properly.

The spacewalkers also worked on the station's jammed solar wing rotating joint. Fossum tried out some cleaning techniques on the joint, which is gummed up with metal shavings, while Garan put in a new bearing.

The joint has been used only sparingly since last fall, hampering energy production. The joint enables the space station's solar arrays, which provide electrical power, to rotate and track the sun. NASA still does not know where the grit came from or how best to deal with the problem.

The photos taken by the space station residents just before Monday's linkup uncovered just four small areas of tile damage on Discovery's belly. The damage is so slight that no detailed inspection will be required, said LeRoy Cain, chairman of the mission management team.