Astronauts Pack Up Space Shuttle Cargo Pod
Astronaut Shane Kimbrough, STS-126 mission specialist, moves a stowage bag in the Harmony node of the International Space Station while Space Shuttle Endeavour remains docked with the station during the November 2008 spaceflight. Astronaut Steve Bowen, mission specialist, is visible in the background.
Credit: NASA.

This story was updated at 6:14 p.m. EST.

Astronauts aboard NASA?s space shuttle Endeavour packed up their room-sized cargo pod Wednesday and stowed it back in their orbital trunk as they prepare to leave the International Space Station after Thanksgiving this week.

Shuttle commander Chris Ferguson and his crew buttoned up their Leonardo cargo module and unhook it from an Earth-facing berth on the space station?s Harmony node so it can make the trip home nestled in Endeavour?s payload bay.

?We?re making the final close outs before we undock in just a few short days,? Ferguson said Tuesday in a televised interview.

The astronauts delivered about 14,400 pounds (6,531 kg) of cargo, including a new recycling system that converts astronaut urine and sweat back into potable water for drinking, food preparation, bathing and oxygen generation. After several days of glitches and a one-day extension to their mission, the astronauts got the system up and running and took their final recycled water samples today.

Altogether, the spaceflyers are bringing home almost 2 gallons (7 liters) of fresh water recycled from astronaut urine and condensed sweat. Packed aboard Endeavour, meanwhile, are about 3,642 pounds (1,651 kg) of trash and unneeded equipment returning to Earth from the space station.

?We?re having a wonderful time,? Ferguson said. ?We docked with the space station a few days and since then, it?s been all work and no play.?

Endeavour astronauts arrived at the space station last week to swap out one member of the orbiting laboratory?s crew and perform the mother of all space renovations to prepare the outpost for larger, six-person crews next year.

Their mission: expand the space station from a three-bedroom, one-bath, one-kitchen laboratory into a five-bedroom research facility with two bathrooms, two kitchens, a gym and a space food fridge.

?Hey, we got cold water!? station skipper Michael Fincke radioed down to Mission Control late Tuesday, adding that he was looking forward to chilled drinks from the cooler once it was hooked up. ?And they said it couldn?t be done.?

Until Endeavour arrived with the new space cooler, station astronauts had only the choice between hot or lukewarm water for refreshment throughout the outpost?s eight years of habitation.

Endeavour?s shuttle?s spacewalking team also performed an unprecedented clean-and-grease job during four different excursions to lubricate a massive 10-foot (3-meter) wide gear, replace its damaged bearings and clean metal shavings from its inner mechanism.

The starboard side gear is one of two designed to rotate the station?s solar wings like a paddlewheel to track the sun, but had been damaged for more than a year.

In addition to their packing work, Endeavour astronauts finalized plans for Thanksgiving aboard the space station on Thursday. Because Endeavour?s mission was extended a day, all 10 astronauts of the joint shuttle-station crew will have time to celebrate the U.S. holiday together before the orbiter leaves.

Pre-cooked turkey, stuffing, candied yams and a cranberry dessert were initially on the menu for Endeavour astronauts before they knew they?d have company for dinner.

?Since then, we?ve sort have been sort of collecting now that we?re going to be here with the ISS crew,? said Endeavour mission specialist Steve Bowen. ?And now we have enough food for everyone onboard, which is part of Thanksgiving anyway, sharing what you have.?

Endeavour is due to undock from the space station on Friday and land on Sunday afternoon.

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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