This story was updated at 2:42 p.m. EST.
It was moving day at the International Space Station Monday as astronauts aboard NASA?s shuttle Endeavour delivered a portable room packed with new home additions for the orbiting laboratory.
Using the space station?s robotic arm, astronauts plucked the Italian-built cargo module from Endeavour?s payload bay and attached it to an Earth-facing port on the orbiting lab?s Harmony connecting node so its vital contents of space bedroom, bathroom and kitchen hardware can be moved in later this week.
Endeavour docked at the space station on Sunday to deliver its cargo and a new crewmember to the outpost?s Expedition 18 crew during a planned 15-day mission that includes four spacewalks.
?It?s a big party up here with 10 people, it?s amazing,? said newly-minted Endeavour astronaut Greg Chamitoff after the docking. Chamitoff has lived aboard the station since June and joined Endeavour?s crew late Sunday after his replacement, fellow NASA astronaut Sandra Magnus, arrived aboard the shuttle.
The cargo pod move began at about 11:45 a.m. EST (1645 GMT), when astronauts used the station?s Canadarm2 robotic arm to latch onto Leonardo, a Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM) the size of a small, 25-passenger school bus. With a delicate touch, Endeavour mission specialist Don Pettit and his crewmates attached the module in place and began work to pressurize it so interior hatches can be opened.
?Nice hands, Dr. Pettit,? Mission Control radioed up after the successful move.
The hefty cargo module is laden with 16 supply racks, each as big as a refrigerator, and 12 extra bags of stuff added just to fill in its conical end cone.
?This is the first full logistics module that we?ve flown,? said Mike Sarafin, Endeavour?s lead shuttle flight director, in a televised briefing late Sunday. ?And we?re expecting just getting the logistics module installed tomorrow will take up most of the day.?
While the 12-ton Leonardo module is filled with more than 14,000 pounds (6,350 kg) of cargo, the focus of Endeavour?s crew is on delivering new gear so the station can jump to larger, six-person crews next year. The outpost needs to double its current three-astronaut population to handle the orbital maintenance and scientific research required for the growing laboratory, mission managers have said.
Chief among the new life support gear to be delivered are a spare $19 million bathroom, second kitchen, two new bedrooms, an exercise machine that offers more than 29 different workouts and a $250 million recycling system that filters urine, sweat and other wastewater through a seven-step process to turn it back into drinkable water. A repurposed space cooler will serve as a space station fridge to give expedition astronauts constant access to cool drinks for the first time in eight years aboard the orbiting lab.
?This module is sort of like a transportainer that you see being loaded on ships,? Pettit said in a preflight NASA interview. ?We?re taking a new toilet. We?re taking regenerative life support. We?re taking a new galley. We?re taking sleeping quarters, finished carpentry-type work to outfit a space station that?s still under construction.?
Pettit is Endeavour?s loadmaster, the astronaut in charge of making sure every bit of cargo makes the move from the Leonardo module into the station, and that every bit of the station?s trash or unneeded equipment makes the return trip back to Earth.
?It?s kind of like doing a Rubik?s Cube,? Pettit told SPACE.com of the transfer chore before launch. ?It is packed, really packed.?
Altogether, Endeavour astronauts have about 105 hours of cargo transfer work to perform during their flight, but only 98 hours actually set aside to do it. Mission managers are confident, however, that Endeavour?s supplies can support at least one extra day to give shuttle astronauts more time to haul cargo.
?From a consumables standpoint, we have more than adequate margin to support an extra day right now,? Sarafin said Sunday. But the decision on when to officially extend the spaceflight one extra day will be made later in the mission, he added.
Mission managers were prepared to delay today?s move of the Leonardo cargo module if an extra inspection of the heat shielding along Endeavour?s starboard wing was required, since parts of the wing would be out of reach once the module was in place. But image analysts found no reason to call for the extra inspection, setting the stage for today?s orbital move.
Elsewhere aboard the space station, astronauts are preparing for the first of four spacewalks scheduled during Endeavour?s docked mission. That spacewalk is set for Tuesday and will feature the retrieval of an empty nitrogen tank, the installation of a spare part for the station?s cooling system and the first attempt to clean a balky solar array gear on the outpost?s starboard side.
NASA is providing live coverage of Endeavour's STS-126 mission on NASA TV. Click here for SPACE.com's mission coverage and NASA TV feed.
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