Space Station Astronauts Eagerly Await STS-114 Crew's Arrival
The two astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) are eagerly anticipating the arrival of NASA's space shuttle Discovery and their first human visitors in more than two months.
ISS Expedition 11 commander Sergei Krikalev and flight engineer John Phillips said they look forward to nightly dinners with Discovery's STS-114 astronauts, and are planning something special to welcome the shuttle crew aboard.
"If I told you now, it wouldn't be a surprise," Phillips told reporters Friday during a space-to-ground news conference. "But I do have a surprise for them."
Discovery's STS-114 mission, commanded by veteran astronaut Eileen Collins, is slated to launch on July 13 at 3:51 p.m. EDT (1951 GMT) and dock at the ISS two days later. In addition to testing out new orbital tools and procedures to inspect and repair space shuttles, Collins and her crewmates will deliver a cargo pod full of much-needed supplies, experiments and replacement parts to the ISS.
"I'm looking forward to seeing my colleagues up here, and seeing another seven faces," Phillips said, adding that he has been collecting his supply of Mexican food for a theme dinner with the shuttle astronauts.
Krikalev and Phillips have lived aboard the ISS since mid-April, and are expected to be the last two-person crew to maintain the orbital facility. A third crew member, European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Thomas Reiter, is slated to join them during NASA's STS-121 shuttle flight aboard Atlantis, which is currently set to launch no earlier than Sept. 9.
Space station crews have been limited to two astronauts, rather than the optimal three, since the 2003 loss of the space shuttle Columbia. That shuttle broke apart during reentry on Feb. 1, 2003, leaving no survivors. NASA grounded its orbiter fleet immediately after the accident, and has spent the last two years modifying its shuttle launch system to enhance flight safety.
"It's a risky business, and we're all sort of apprehensive," Phillips said of Discovery's upcoming flight. "I'm very confident of course."
NASA and ISS managers have developed an emergency plan in the event Discovery suffers substantial damage and is unable to return the STS-114 crew back to Earth safely. In that event, the astronauts would take shelter aboard the ISS until Atlantis could be sent up to retrieve them under a plan known as Contingency Shuttle Crew Support (CSCS).
"Right now, all the equipment and supplies aboard will allow us to support a full crew up to a month and a half, approximately," Krikalev told reporters.
Phillips added that the space station has plenty of food, water and oxygen to support nine people for a limited contingency period.
"That is not to say we take a potential [CSCS] situation lightly," Phillips said. "We would not take it lightly, that would not be a good day."
While Discovery is hauling up a massive load of fresh cargo for the ISS, it will also return an equally large amount of cargo back home, much of which could not be returned any other way.
"It's a pretty big pile of equipment we have prepared for the shuttle to return," Krikalev said, adding that he hopes to return some Russian Kurs units used by unmanned Progress cargo ships during ISS resupply.
The crew will also send down some personal items.
Phillips said he and his wife are celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary, and he looks forward to sending a pair of new wedding rings they bought for the occasion.
Both astronauts said Discovery's STS-114 flight, and Atlantis' subsequent STS-121 mission, are vital to putting the space station back on the path to completion.
"The focus of the shuttle program at this point is on supporting the space station and continuing [its] assembly," Phillips said. "I'm looking forward to getting new lab equipment and other instruments up from the ground."
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