Astronauts hitch giant crate to space station

February 4, 2009 6:06:15 PM PST
Astronauts hitched a giant shipping crate full of home improvement "goodies" to the international space station on Monday, a critical step for boosting the population in orbit. It was the first major job for the crews of the linked space station and space shuttle Endeavour, and highlighted their first full day together.

"We're here to work," the space station's skipper, Mike Fincke, called down. "This is the can-do crew."

More than 14,000 pounds of gear was stuffed into the 21-foot container that flew up on Endeavour and was hoisted onto the space station. It held an extra toilet, refrigerator and kitchenette, exercise machine and sleeping compartments, and a new recycling system for converting urine into drinking water.

Fincke called it "the goodies ... things needed for an extreme home makeover."

NASA cannot double the number of space station residents from three to six next year until all the equipment - most notably the water recycling system - has been installed and tested. Additional equipment will be launched in February.

Until now, the space station has been a one-kitchen, one-bath, three-bedroom house. That third bedroom is actually a makeshift nook in the U.S. lab. The orbiting outpost is on the verge of becoming a two-kitchen, two-bath, five-bedroom home and will have six full bedrooms in a few more months.

Astronaut Sandra Magnus - the newest space station resident - spent Monday getting used to her new home. She flew up on Endeavour and promptly traded places with Gregory Chamitoff, who's headed home after a six-month mission. Magnus will spend 3½ months on board.

Besides being moving day for the 10 space travelers, Monday involved gearing up for the first of four planned spacewalks.

On Tuesday, two of the shuttle crew will venture outside and begin the most complicated cleaning and lube job ever attempted in orbit. One of two massive joints that turn the space station's solar wings toward the sun has been jammed for more than a year; it's clogged with metal grit from grinding parts. They'll also squirt some grease onto the joint that's working fine, to prevent any future hang-ups. The work will fill up all four spacewalks.

Mission Control informed the shuttle astronauts that nothing of concern had been noted so far in the exhaustive review of photos from Friday night's launch and Sunday's rendezvous with the space station, and data collected from the wing and nose cap inspections. NASA wants to make sure Endeavour is free of any serious damage before giving it the green light for returning home.

Endeavour and its crew of seven will remain at the space station until at least Thanksgiving.