CAPECANAVERAL, Fla. ? Seven NASA astronauts and the space shuttle Endeavour arepoised to launch tonight on what they?ve called an extreme home improvement jobat the International Space Station.
Endeavouris set to blast off at 7:55 p.m. EST (0055 Nov. 15 GMT) tonight from a seasidelaunch pad here at NASA?s Kennedy Space Center hauling a cargo pod packed withnew life support gear, including a $250million recycling system that turns astronaut urine into drinkable water.
?Thismission is all about home improvement,? said Endeavour commander ChrisFerguson. ?Home improvement both inside and outside the space station.?
Ferguson andhis STS-126 crew are launching ona 15-day mission to install a new kitchen, bathroom, two spare bedrooms, anall-in-one exercise machine and the water recycling system to help booststation crew sizes up to six people next year.
Fourspacewalks are also planned during the mission to clean and grease an ailing solar array joint so the outpost can generate more power.
?Therecomes a time to start doing maintenance,? said Endeavour lead spacewalker HeideStefanyshyn-Piper. ?This is it, and we?re ready to go.?
Set tolaunch spaceward with Ferguson and Stefanyshyn-Piper are Endeavour pilot EricBoe and mission specialists Don Pettit, Steve Bowen, Shane Kimbrough and SandraMagnus. Boe, Bowen and Kimbrough are making their first spaceflight.
Magnus isset for a longer mission than her crewmates and expects to spend almost fourmonths in space as part of the station?s three-person Expedition 18 crew.She?ll replace fellow NASA astronaut Greg Chamitoff, who has lived aboard thestation since June.
Endeavourhas a 70 percent chance of good launch weather for tonight?s plannedliftoff, with the potential for thick clouds and nearby rain showers posing theonly threat. Those chances dwindle to just 30 percent on Saturday due to anapproaching cold front, but should clear up on Sunday, said NASA shuttleweather officer Kathy Winters.
A launchingshuttle can trigger lighting if it flies through thick storm clouds and NASAflight rules require clear weather around a nearby runway so the shuttle canland in an emergency.
Fergusonand his crew have a tall order ahead to deliver their cargo pod Leonardo andits load of new station equipment.
Thecenterpiece of the new gear is the waterrecovery system, which will collect astronaut urine, wastewater andsweat condensed from the station?s interior, then filter it through a seven-stepprocess to produce clean water suitable for drinking, food preparation, bathingor other uses. The water can also feed into a U.S. oxygen generator, which useselectrolysis to separate water into breathable oxygen and hydrogen.
?I don?tthink there?s ever been a closed loop system like the one that?s on the[International Space Station],? said Mike Suffredini, NASA?s station programmanager.
Since thelaunch of its first module in 1998, the space station has grown in size andcapability, Suffredini said. It requires more than the current three-person crews to keep itssystems in order while continuing space science research, he added.
If it worksas designed, the system should be able to recycle 93 percent of the water putinto it - 85 percent of urine alone, said Bob Bagdigian, NASA?s project managerfor the station?s environment control and life support system at the MarshallSpace Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.
If all goeswell, the new system should complete its testing regime sometime around May,Bagdigian said. It?s then that NASA and its international partners hope tolaunch the first six-person crew.
Endeavour?sSTS-126 mission is NASA?s fourth shuttle flight of 2008 and the second thisyear slated for a nighttime launch. Of the 123 shuttle flights since 1981,about one-fourth havelaunched at night, NASA officials said.
?We?rereally excited to share our version of a sunrise with you tomorrow night,? saidNASA test director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson. ?Night launches are alwaysspecial.?
NASAwill provide live webcast coverage of Endeavour?s launch tonight on NASA TVbeginning at 2:30 p.m. EST (1930 GMT). Click here for SPACE.com?s livemission coverage and NASA TV feed.
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