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Space Station in Fine Shape For Mission, New Crew Says

Brazilian Astronaut Celebrates Nation's Flight Centennial
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.
(Image: © NASA TV/collectSPACE.com.)

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

ISS Expedition13 commander Pavel Vinogradov and flight engineer Jeffrey Williams - who arrivedat the station Saturday with Brazil's first astronaut MarcosPontes - are immersed in handover procedures to take control of the stationand begin their long-duration spaceflight.

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

Williamslast visited the ISS in May 2000 during NASA's STS-101shuttle flight, when the space station consisted of only the Zarya andUnity modules. Russia's Zvezda service module and NASA's Destiny laboratoryhave since expanded the station's living quarters to the size for athree-bedroom home.

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

ISS crewswap

Vinogradovand Williams are relieving the space station's current Expedition12 crew commanded by NASA astronaut Bill McArthur with Russian cosmonaut ValeryTokarev as flight engineer. The astronauts have served aboard the ISS since October2005.

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

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

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

Space sciencefor 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-daystay aboard the ISS.

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

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

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

Despitebeing a "marvelous experience" for him personally, Pontes said his mission hasa higher importance in his native Brazil.

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

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