HOUSTON -Nine astronauts toiling to shiftmore than two tons of cargo between the Discovery shuttle and InternationalSpace Station more than 210 miles (337 kilometers) above Earth are ahead ofschedule, and even had time for a telephone call with the U.S. President, NASAofficials said.
President George W. Bush spoke withthe astronauts during a private ground-to-orbit telephone call this morning.
President Bush told Discovery's crewthat he watched closely as STS-121 spacewalkers PiersSellers and MichaelFossum worked outside their spacecraft, and invited the astronauts andtheir families to the White House once they return to Earth, White House spokesperson David Almacy told SPACE.com. President Bush also touched on the fact that Fossum is a graduate of Texas A & M University, Almacy added.
"He said that the astronauts represent the best ofservice and exploration and thanked them for what they're doing," saidspokeswoman Dana Perino, according to the AssociatedPress.
The call came as the STS-121 crewbuckled down for a day of hauling obsolete equipment, tools and otherunnecessary items into Discovery's Leonardo cargo module for the return trip toEarth.
Working together, the combined crewsof Discovery and the space station's Expedition13 mission have completed about 80 percent of their cargo transfer dutiesand are ramping up for the last of three spacewalks this week, said Tony Ceccacci, lead shuttle flight director for the mission.
"The crew is working really hard onthat," Ceccacci said during a mission update here atNASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC).
Discovery will return about 5,421pounds (2,458 kilograms) of material to Earth, more than 4,000 pounds(1,814 kilograms) of which will be stowed in Leonardo during the descent, NASAhas said.
Among the first things to beunpacked were 82 containers of food and about 187 pounds (85 kilograms) ofother provisions for the European Space Agency's (ESA) astronaut ThomasReiter, who joined station commander Pavel Vinogradov and flightengineer JeffreyWilliams as a member of the ISS Expedition 13 crew.
"His stuff was some of the firstthey unloaded," Ceccacci told SPACE.com, addingthat because the shuttle crew is ahead of schedule, they can rest a bit easierduring their flight. "I think what it means is that they don't have to worryand rush through things."
Final spacewalk on tap
While their crewmates shift cargo,STS-121 astronauts Piers Sellers and Michael Fossumreadied their U.S.-built spacesuits for onelast spacewalk outside Discovery.
The spacewalkers will spend about6.5 hours working inside Discovery's payload bay to test an experimental black,heat-resistant non-oxide adhesive (NOAX) material for use in repairing smallcracks in the carbon composite panels that line the shuttle's wings and nose.
"NOAX is about the consistency ofpeanut butter," Ceccacci said.
The material will be spackled onto aset of test articles in Discovery's payload bay at precise times to gauge itsreactions to different temperatures in orbit, Ceccaccisaid.
Sellers and Fossumwill also test out a new infrared camera by recording about 20 seconds of videoof the carbon composite panels along Discovery's wing edge. The test, NASAofficials hope, will verify whether the camera can be used as an additionaltool during shuttle heat shield inspections.
Wednesday's spacewalk begins at 7:13a.m. EDT (1113 GMT) and will be broadcast live on NASA TV. You are invited tofollow the crew's progress using SPACE.com's feed of NASA TV, which is availableby clicking here.
The Associated Press contributed tothis report.
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