WASHINGTON- Astronauts aboard NASA?s shuttle Endeavour and the International SpaceStation said Friday that their joint mission is going well despite glitcheswith a new recycling system built to convert urine and sweat into drinkingwater.
The 10 astronautsaboard the station and docked shuttle have passed the midpoint of their mission to install the waterrecycling system and a host of new gear needed to double the orbiting lab?s crewsize next summer.
?It?s justbeen a wonderful time up here,? Endeavour commander Chris Ferguson toldreporters Friday via a space-to-ground video link. ?It?s a great time servingwith this crew.?
Fergusonand six crewmates launchedtoward the station on Nov. 14 carrying a new crewmember and the waterrecycling system, as well as two spare bedrooms, a second kitchen, extrabathroom and new gym equipment.
Theastronauts have also performed two of four spacewalks to clean metal grit froma solar array-rotating gear on the station?s starboard side. The only majorhitches have come from a lost tool bag in a Tuesday spacewalk - which prompteda flurry of changes for subsequent excursions - and issues testing the waterrecycling system?s urineprocessing capabilities.
?We?re veryhopeful that we can still get the first round of samples through during thismission while the STS-126 [crew] and Endeavour are still here,? station skipperMichael Fincke said of the water recycler. ?We?re notworried so far and we?ve got the right team up here if we need any fixes.?
NASAengineers now believe they?ve traced the issue to the possible contact of aninternal component with a vital motor that turns a centrifuge at the start ofthe urine distillation process. They?re hopeful the system can be activated soonso samples can be collected and returned to Earth when Endeavour lands Nov. 29.
Finckesaid he?s eager to get the system up and running, despite its squeamishreputation.
?Actually,it goes through such a process, it?s no longer urine whatsoever,? Fincke said. ?It?s probably purer than most people?s tapwater, so I?m not afraid to drink it.?
Turkeyday in space
The jointstation-shuttle crew marked the spacestation?s 10th anniversary on Thursday and plan to celebrate Thanksgivingtogether next week.
SinceEndeavour is slated to undock Thanksgiving morning, the 10 astronauts may markthe U.S. holiday a day early for a traditional dinner of pre-packaged turkey,cornbread dressing, green beans, cranberry-apple desert and other space foodsas a united crew, Ferguson said.
In additionto the new hardware, Endeavour also ferried American astronaut Sandra Magnus tothe space station, where she?s replaced fellow NASA spaceflyerGreg Chamitoff as a member of the orbiting lab?sthree-person crew.
?Life onthe space station is great,? said Magnus, who last visited a much smallerversion of the outpost in 2002 and will spend the next few months aboard. ?Thisplace is absolutely huge!?
Chamitoff,meanwhile, said he?s excited to return to Earth aboard Endeavour after nearly sixmonths aboard the station and has already had a little taste of home.
?We don?thave cold water,? Chamitoff said, adding that a newcooler delivered by Endeavour hasn?t been hooked up yet. ?The shuttle broughtup some cold water, so last night I actually went over for my first cold drinkin six months. That was really great.?
Chamitoffsaid he?s been thinking about his wife and twin toddlers more often, but isalso eager to chow down on a pizza after he lands. He hopes to wash it downwith a Diet Coke and some rocky road ice cream.
OfEndeavour?s seven-astronaut crew, three are making their first spaceflight butall are enjoying the wonders of weightlessness.
Missionspecialist Don Pettit, who previously lived aboard the station for more thanfive months, said floating in space outweighs even the views of the Earth fromorbit, since the planet is beautiful on the ground as well.
?That?s oneof the most wonderful aspects about this place,? Pettit said. ?We can seereally good views of Earth from Earth. We can?t fly.?
NASA isproviding live coverage of Endeavour's STS-126 mission on NASA TV. Click here for SPACE.com'smission coverage and NASA TV feed.
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