Space Station in Fine Shape For Mission, New Crew Says
Brazilian astronaut Marcos Pontes (top left) waves a Brazilian flag after he arrived at the ISS with Expedition 13 commander Pavel Vinogradov (lower left) and flight engineer Jeffrey Williams (top right). Expedition 12 commander Bill McArthur (center) and flight engineer Valery Tokarev welcomed the astronauts aboard on April 1, 2006.
Credit: NASA TV/collectSPACE.com.

Two astronauts set to take charge of the International Space Station (ISS) this week said Monday that the orbital lab is in fine shape to host their six-month mission.

ISS Expedition 13 commander Pavel Vinogradov and flight engineer Jeffrey Williams - who arrived at the station Saturday with Brazil's first astronaut Marcos Pontes - are immersed in handover procedures to take control of the station and begin their long-duration spaceflight.

"We're very pleased with the condition of the vehicle," Williams said from space during a video news conference. "Obviously it's a lot different than it was when I was last here...it's a lot more roomy."

Williams last visited the ISS in May 2000 during NASA's STS-101 shuttle flight, when the space station consisted of only the Zarya and Unity modules. Russia's Zvezda service module and NASA's Destiny laboratory have since expanded the station's living quarters to the size for a three-bedroom home.

"The station is way more beautiful than it may appear from the ground," Vinogradov said. "When we approached the station and held our distance at about 200 meters, it was a fantastic view. This incredible structure, this beautiful machine flying over the Earth."

ISS crew swap

Vinogradov and Williams are relieving the space station's current Expedition 12 crew commanded by NASA astronaut Bill McArthur with Russian cosmonaut Valery Tokarev as flight engineer. The astronauts have served aboard the ISS since October 2005.

"Bill's got all kinds of great advice," Williams said of his NASA colleague. "I don't think you really can appreciate the magnitude of the importance of those kinds of tips for working in this environment until you get here and just find out how difficult even some simple things can be."

In addition to performing handing over control of the ISS to the Expedition 13 crew, McArthur will participate in a spacewalk preparation test with Williams today by "camping out" inside the station's U.S.-built Quest airlock. The procedure, in which the airlock atmospheric pressure will be lowered from the typical 14.7 psi to the 10.2 psi, is aimed at testing a potential time-saving technique to prepare astronauts for future spacewalks.

"It's going to be pretty simple," McArthur said. "After dinner, we're going to close the hatch, depress the airlock and visit for a little bit. Jeff and I are old Army buddies."

Space science for Brazil

Meanwhile, Pontes - a lieutenant colonel in Brazil's Air Force and his nation's first spacefarer - has completed many of the experiments that have been planned for his eight-day stay aboard the ISS.

"I was able to accomplish about 60 percent of the experiments I was supposed to complete by the end of the mission," Pontes said. "They are going very well."

Pontes said he dreamed of flying during his first night aboard the station, only to awake and find he truly was floating in the station's microgravity environment.

"I'm sure I'm going to miss this place next week," Pontes said.

Despite being a "marvelous experience" for him personally, Pontes said his mission has a higher importance in his native Brazil.

"I imagine for the entire country it is a big event," Pontes said, adding that his flight happened to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos Dumont's first heavier-than-air flight. "We were expecting this for a long time...this is a very significant moment for my country."