For 13 Astronauts, a Day Off in Space
NASA Astronaut Tim Kopra floats toward his new home - the International Space Station - after arriving aboard the shuttle Endeavour during the mission of STS-127 on July 17, 2009.
Credit: NASA.

This story was updated at 8:40 a.m. EDT.

The 13 people living on the International Space Station took some hard-earned time off Saturday, a welcome relief after a hectic week of orbital construction.

It?s a rare rest day for the station?s six-man crew and seven visiting astronauts from the space shuttle Endeavour, who have plowed through a week packed with four spacewalks and robotic arm work to upgrade the orbiting laboratory with new batteries, spare parts and - their crown jewel - a brand new Japanese porch, complete with experiments.

?On a very long mission like this, it?s really important that they get some time to recuperate and recover and really just enjoy being on orbit as the first 13-person crew,? space station flight director Holly Ridings told reporters late Friday.

Time off in space

Mission Control let Endeavour?s crew sleep in more than an hour this morning to give the astronauts some extra rest. In addition to resting and swapping space stories with their crewmates, the astronauts will have a chance to play in zero gravity, look out the window or make calls to friends and loved ones on Earth.

?We?ve been able to look out the window and we?re hoping today to look out a little bit more,? said Endeavour pilot Doug Hurley during a series of TV interviews Saturday morning. It?s hard for a pilot to find words that describe Earth?s beauty from space, but ?it?s incredible to look out the window,? Hurley said.

Canadian astronaut Julie Payette, Endeavour?s lead robotic arm operator, has said she?s eager for more time to look down at her home planet. She is making her second spaceflight, but her first one was 10 years ago, when the space station was little more than two small, empty modules.

?On my first flight I was working mostly inside the space station, which at the time had no windows because the windows hadn?t arrived yet,? Payette told reporters before flight. During the interviews this morning, she said she was enjoying her flight.

?I think it is a complete privilege to be up here and be able to see the Earth from above and float in weightlessness,? Payette said, adding that it is especially fun to zoom through the station?s many modules.

Endeavour astronauts have passed the midpoint of their 16-day mission to deliver the station?s new science experiment porch, which they added to the exterior of outpost?s $1 billion Kibo lab last week. They also delivered spare parts and a new crewmember for the station?s crew.

One big team

The station crew and Endeavour astronauts make up the largest crowd in history ever gathered in one place in space. While the population in space has hit 13 before, it was usually spread across multiple - and separate - spacecraft like the station, shuttle and Russian Soyuz vehicles. The station doubled its crew size from three to six people in late May.

Endeavour commander Mark Polansky said that while quarters can be a little crowded, particularly around mealtime with every one crammed around a makeshift dining table, for the most part the station has ample room for the enlarged crew.

After all, it has nine main rooms and an interior living space about the size of a 747 jumbo jet. And unlike on Earth, when crowded hallways make it impossible to pass, there?s a solution in the weightlessness of space.

?You just float over the top,? Polansky said in a series of TV interviews this week.

Polansky and his crew will speak with reporters on Earth before beginning their day off. NASA?s Mission Control in Houston plans to stay as quiet as possible to the astronauts enjoy their time off, Ridings said.

After their day off, Endeavour astronauts will get back to work Sunday with some challenging robotic arm chores to retrieve a cargo platform from the tip of the station?s Kibo porch. One last spacewalk, the fifth of the mission, is scheduled for Monday.

Endeavour is due to depart the space station on Tuesday and land July 31.

  • Video - Bloopers in Space!
  • Video - Space Station Acrobatics
  • SPACE.com Video Show - The ISS: Foothold on Forever

SPACE.com is providing continuous coverage of STS-127 with reporter Clara Moskowitz and senior editor Tariq Malik in New York. Click here for mission updates and SPACE.com's live NASA TV video feed.