Astronauts Take a Break From Busy Space Mission
Astronauts Rick Sturckow (bottom), STS-128 commander; Danny Olivas (right) and Patrick Forrester, both mission specialists, are pictured near the hatch on the middeck of Space Shuttle Discovery after docking with the International Space Station on Aug. 30, 2009.
Credit: NASA.

Astronauts took a hard-earned break from work aboard the International Space Station Friday as they hit the midpoint of a busy mission to boost the outpost?s science gear and supplies.

The 13 astronauts aboard the docked station and shuttle Discovery had a half-day off from their joint mission, time enough to gaze down at their home planet or simply enjoy flying in weightlessness.

?Sometimes, you?ve just got to look out the window and enjoy the view,? shuttle astronaut Jose Hernandez told reporters in a televised interview this week. ?It?s just breathtaking and I can?t describe it with words. It?s just indescribable.?

Hernandez, a former migrant farm worker who applied for 12 straight years to be an astronaut, said the mission has been busy, but also one to savor. He has been posting daily updates in English and Spanish via Twitter as @Astro_Jose.

?It?s a great, great experience,? he said. ?A great feeling.?

Hernandez and his crewmates plan to discuss their mission late Friday night with reporters on Earth.

Space debris misses station

Friday?s time off came hours after a large chunk of space debris buzzed by the space station at about 11:07 a.m. EDT (1507 GMT).

The orbital junk, part of a 3-year-old European rocket booster, came within a mile (1.3 km) of the linked space station and shuttle when it zoomed ahead of the spacecraft from the left to the right. NASA had tracked the space debris for days and found that it posed absolutely zero risk of hitting the station-shuttle complex or endangering its astronaut crew.

?We knew that it was going to be a near-miss without a threat of collision,? station flight engineer Ron Spencer told reporters late Friday. ?Because this object was so well-tracked, we calculated that the probability of collision was zero.?

Time off in space

The space junk?s near-miss went relatively unnoticed by the station and shuttle crews Friday morning since the astronauts were in the middle of their sleep period. They woke up at noon for their rest day in space.

?We will certainly give them some time to enjoy for themselves,? space station flight director Heather Rarick told reporters early Friday. ?We?re hoping that they do take some time to rest up.?

It is only the second time ever that 13 astronauts, seven on the shuttle and six on the station, have been together in space.

Discovery commander Rick Sturckow and his crew are in the midst of a 13-day mission to deliver nearly 8 tons of new science gear and supplies to the space station. They have already completed most of their cargo transfer and performed two of three planned spacewalks, with the last one set for Friday.

Discovery is due to undock from the space station on Tuesday.

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SPACE.com is providing complete coverage of Discovery's STS-128 mission to the International Space Station with Managing Editor Tariq Malik and Staff Writer Clara Moskowitz in New York. Click here for shuttle mission updates and a link to NASA TV.