After Vital Repairs, Space Station on Track for Larger Crews

After Vital Repairs, Space Station on Track for Larger Crews
Endeavour shuttle commander proudly displays a batch of recyled water labeled 'Yesterday's Coffee' in a televised interview on NASA TV. (Image credit: NASA TV.)

The apparentlysuccessful fix of a solar array-rotating gear and a recycling system that turnsurine into drinkable water have set the stage for the International Space Stationto ramp up to six-astronaut crews next year, but only after a battery of testsconfirm the repairs, NASA officials said Tuesday.

Spacestation program manager Mike Suffredini said the in-space repairs by stationand Endeavour shuttle astronauts to the urinerecycler and a massive starboard-side gear have put the orbiting lab oncourse for next year?s plan to double the size of its current three-person crews.

?I wouldsay we?re on the right track,? Suffredini said of the repairs, adding thatEndeavour?s mission is capping a series of recent shuttle missions to expandthe space station. ?We?ve made a major step towards a six-person crew with justone flight.?

Astronautsproudly displayed a batch of the recycled water to NASA television cameras on Tuesday.It was labeled with a sign reading ?Yesterday?s Coffee,? a running joke amongthe crew, which has said the new recycler turns ?yesterday?s coffee intotoday?s coffee.?

Foundationset for crew boost

The firstsix-person crew is expected to takeup residence aboard the station in late May of next year. Those astronautswill be greeted by a host of vital systems deliveredaboard Endeavour.

Commandedby astronaut Chris Ferguson, Endeavour?s seven-astronaut crew arrived at thespace station last week carrying a new crewmember, two spare bedrooms, exercisegear, a second kitchen and bathroom along with the recycling system for urineand wastewater.

Also aboardwere three astronauts who performed a four-spacewalkoverhaul the 10-foot (3-meter) wide gear by replacing bearings, greasing upits metal ring and cleaning metal shavings from its delicatemechanism. The gear is one of two designed to rotate the space station?swing-like solar arrays so they always face the sun and maximize power, but ithasn?t worked properly in over a year.

Suffredinisaid the fixes by Endeavour?s crew appear to have done the trick. Flightcontrollers rotated the repaired gear for three hours early Tuesday as thespace station orbited Earth twice. But weeks of more tests will determine the full measure of the repair, Suffredini said.

So, too,with the urine recycler, which astronauts spent days repairing after a seriesof start-up glitches late last week. The high-tech wastewater system is designed to collect astronauturine, sweat and other condensate and filter it through a seven-step process backinto potable water. The end result is fresh water for drinking, foodpreparation, bathing and oxygen generation.

The abilityto recycle urine and wastewater aboard the station is vital to support largercrews since it reduces the amount of potable water delivered to the orbiting lababoard visiting spacecraft. That saved space, about the equivalent of about 743gallons (2,850 liters) per year, frees up room for other cargo and supplies.

NASAextended the Endeavour crew?s mission by a day to allow the extra work, whichincluded removing small vibration dampeners and adding braces to bolt a centrifugedown more securely. The repair appeared to be a success, with the recycler processing urine as designed for more than five hours Tuesday.

Endeavour will return six quart-size (1-liter) samples of the recycled water foranalysis. Engineers expect to spend three months testing the system beforeclearing the water for astronaut consumption.

?You have to remember that this is serial number 001 for oneour brand new technologies which we're testing out here on space station,? saidEndeavour astronaut Don Pettit. ?So you can expect to have a few hiccups.?

NASA isproviding live coverage of Endeavour's STS-126 mission on NASA TV. Click here for'smission coverage and NASA TV feed.

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of 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's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, 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 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.