Home Improvement Crew Arrives at Space Station

Home Improvement Crew Arrives at Space Station
The space shuttle Endeavour approaches the International Space Station for a Nov. 16, 2008 docking during the STS-126 mission. The end of the station's Japanese Kibo lab and robotic arm appears at bottom left. (Image credit: NASA TV.)

Thisstory was updated at 8:37 p.m. EST.

A crew ofastronaut plumbers and electricians arrived at the International Space Stationaboard NASA’s shuttle Endeavour on Sunday to add an extra kitchen,bathroom and new bedrooms to the orbiting laboratory.

Under thedeft control of shuttle commander Chris Ferguson, Endeavour dockedwith the space station at about 5:01 p.m. EST (2101 GMT) as the twospacecraft flew 212 miles (341 km) above northern India near the Chineseborder. All 10 astronauts celebrated the docking with some hugs and laughsafter opening the hatches between their spacecraft two hours later.

“WelcomeEndeavour, you guys look awesome,” station commander Michael Fincke saidafter Endeavour’s crew floated aboard. “We understand that thishouse is in need of a makeover and you’re the crew to do it.”

Endeavour launchedtoward the station late Friday carrying seven astronauts and anItalian-built cargo pod filled with more than 14,000 pounds (6,350 kg) of newgear to help support the orbital outpost’s shift to larger, six-personcrews next year.

In additionto the new kitchen, toilet and two bedrooms, the shuttle is carrying a spacecooler so station astronauts can have cold drinks for the first time in theeight years astronauts have lived aboard. Endeavour is also toting a newwater recycling system designed to collect astronaut urine, sweat and otherwastewater into drinkable water.

“Wefigured we’d go for a 10-year anniversary party for the InternationalSpace Station, so that’s what we showed up for,” said Ferguson, who will be aboard the station with his crew during its10th anniversary on Nov. 20. “We’re looking forward to working onyour house and making it look a little bit better when we’re done.”

BeforeEndeavour docked at the station, Ferguson flew the 100-ton spacecraft throughgraceful orbital back flip so Fincke and station crewmate Greg Chamitoff couldphotograph the shuttle’s belly-mounted heat shield. Analysts on Earthwill pore over the high-resolution images over the next several days to lookfor any signs of damage, though Fincke reported that, to his eye, the shuttleappeared to be in good health.

“Thesekind of lenses are essentially big telescopes and Greg and I, with ourprofessionally trained, eyes could not see anything obvious,” Fincke toldMission Control. “It looks like it was clean and dry, as they say. Itlooked really good.”

NASA haskept close watch its orbiter heat shields since launch debris damaged theshuttle Columbia’s wing-mounted shielding during its 2003 launch, leadingto the loss of the spacecraft and its crew during re-entry 16 days later.

Missionmanagers said after today’s docking that of two pieces of debris spotted fromEndeavour’s Friday launch, one was erroneous while the other did notstrike the shuttle at all. Analysts will work through tonight to decide if afocused inspection of Endeavour’s starboard wing will be necessary onMonday, they added.

Orbitalmakeover for station

The jointcrews of Endeavour and the space station have a packed docked period ahead tomove nearly seven tons of supplies from the shuttle’s cargo pod into theorbiting laboratory. Most of that time will be spent moving refrigerator-sizedracks of equipment into place and routing plumbing and electrical lines toactivate them.

“Spacestation is still a construction zone,” Endeavour mission specialist DonPettit said in a preflight NASA interview. “So what we are doing to spacestation is like finished carpentry.”

Unlike pastconstruction flights, which delivered new modules, truss segments or solarwings to the station, Endeavour is hauling the internal life support gear thatwill allow the outpost to double its crew size to keep up with addedmaintenance and science research tasks.

“Knowingthat we have a crucial role in putting the guts of the space station backtogether is thrilling,” Ferguson told SPACE.com before flight.

Also vitalis the rather mundane cleaning and grease job on the station’s starboardside gear, a 10-foot (3-meter) wide ring that spins outboard solar wings like apaddlewheel to track the sun. Metal grit from the gear grinding into itself hasdamaged it, requiring an intense clean-up and lube job for Endeavourspacewalkers.

“It’sa pretty humble workman-like task and I’m sure there’s going to besome bobbles as we figure out how to do it,” NASA Administrator MikeGriffin told SPACE.com before launch, adding that learning how to make unexpectedrepairs is vital for human space exploration. “This is the kind of stuffthat you have to do.”

Crewswap on tap

Endeavouris also ferrying NASA astronaut Sandra Magnus to the station, where she plansto replace Chamitoff as a flight engineer with the outpost’s Expedition18 crew. Chamitoff has lived aboard the space station since June, and willreturn home aboard Endeavour when it lands in two weeks.

“Thatwas a spectacular, beautiful sight to see you guys coming up underneath us and,wow!” Chamitoff told Endeavour’s crew after his ride home arrived.“I am smiling from ear to ear.”

Magnus,meanwhile, is beginning a planned three-month stay aboard the station withFincke and Russian cosmonaut Yury Lonchakov. A special seat liner made forMagnus will be installed inside a Russian Soyuz spacecraft docked at the stationlater today, signifying her official move to the station’s crew. Herfamily roused Endeavour’s crew this morning with the song “Start MeUp” by the Rolling Stones.

“Iwant to thank my family for that music and I’m looking forward to movinginto my new home today,” Magnus radioed down to Mission Control inHouston.

Fergusonand Endeavour’s lead spacewalker Heide Stefanyshyn-Piper are making theirsecond trip to the station since 2006, when they helped deliver a pair of newsolar arrays. Magnus last visited the station in 2002, while Pettit spent 5 1/2months aboard the outpost as an Expedition 6 flight engineer between 2002 and2003. Endeavour pilot Eric Boe and mission specialists Steve Bowen and ShaneKimbrough are each making their first career spaceflight.

“Idon’t think anybody is more happy to be back than Don, though,”Ferguson said.

After theirbrief celebration, the 10 astronauts went back to work to begin shifting highpriority cargo between Endeavour and the space station, which more than tripledits population with the shuttle’s arrival.

“Onto work,” Fincke said. “Man, this place just got smaller.”

NASA isproviding live coverage of Endeavour’s STS-126 mission on NASA TV. Click here for SPACE.com’s missioncoverage and NASA TV feed.


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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of Space.com and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became Space.com's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining Space.com, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at Space.com and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.