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Back at Full Strength, ISS Crew Takes a Break

German Chancellor Talks Science with Nation's First ISS Astronaut
The now three-astronaut crew of ISS Expedition 13 are commander and cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov (left), flight engineer and ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter (center), with flight engineer Jeffrey Williams serving as NASA science officer.
(Image: © NASA.)

Threeastronauts aboard the InternationalSpace Station (ISS) are taking a well-earned break one week after NASA's shuttle Discovery left theirorbital laboratory.

ISSExpedition 13 commander PavelVinogradov and flight engineers JeffreyWilliams and ThomasReiter were set to rest easy - with only optional tasks on their plate -this weekend as they prepare for an upcoming spacewalk. Discovery's STS-121crew departedthe ISS on July 15 leaving Reiter, a European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut,aboard to join the Expedition 13 team.

NASAspokesperson Rob Navias told SPACE.com that the Expedition 13 crew wasscheduled to relax after the busy joint operations earlier this month withDiscovery's astronaut crew. The three ISS astronauts performed initial checkson a new freezer to store biological samples and a U.S.-built oxygen generatorbefore heading into their weekend, he added.

"We're veryglad that Thomas has finally arrived after a long, hard period of training,"Williams told reporters in a recent interview. "It will add a different flavorto life on board to have a third crewmember, especially with Thomas whom weenjoy being with very much."

Spacestation expeditions were reducedto two-astronaut teams following the 2003 loss of NASA's Columbiaorbiter and its seven-astronaut crew, leaving only the Russian-built Soyuzspacecraft available to ferry new teams to the ISS. Discoveryreturned NASA's shuttle fleet to flight status in July 2005, but stooddown for almost one year as the space agency wrangled with external tankdebris issues.

Discovery's STS-121 mission completed NASA's cycle of twotest flights before resumingISS construction next month with the planned Aug. 28 launch of the STS-115mission aboard Atlantis. Discovery landedon July 17 at NASA's Kennedy Space Center after a 13-daymission to the ISS.

"I'mextremely happy to be on board," Reiter said recently. "It was a big wait, butfinally we're all together."

Reiterjoined the Expedition 13 astronauts midway through their six-month mission onJuly 6, when Discovery and its STS-121 crew dockedat the ISS. He is a veteran of one other long-duration spaceflight - 1995'sEuroMir 95 mission to the RussianSpace Station Mir - in which he spent 179 days in orbit.

During theeight days of docked operations Reiter watched over the transfer of tons of cargoand equipment - most importantly his personal items, food and a custom-builtseat liner to cushion any Soyuz trip he might have to make while aboard - madetheir way into the space station's cupboards, NASA officials said.

Navias saidReiter and his fellow Expedition 13 crewmates had the option of moving cargoout of Progress22, a Russian-built unmanned supply ship that arrived at the ISS just overone week before Discovery, or getting ahead on some of their pre-spacewalktasks.

Reiter andWilliams are set to don U.S.-built spacesuits on Aug. 3 for a six-hourspacewalk set to begin at 9:55 a.m. EDT (1355 GMT).

"This is anhonor and privilege to fly for the European Space Agency as the first long-timeflight of a German astronaut [to ISS]," Reiter said. "I hope that more Europeanastronauts can join this in the future."

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