Two astronauts circling the Earth aboard the International Space Station (ISS) are eagerly awaiting the start of 2005, which they expect to be a busy one for the orbital platform now that it has been restocked with supplies.
Speaking to reporters today via a video link from space, ISS Expedition 10 commander Leroy Chiao and flight engineer Salizhan Sharipov said they are about midway through unpacking 2.5 tons of cargo from the supply ship Progress 16, which docked at the station on Dec. 25 just in time for the holidays.
"It's a lot of fun, kind of like unpacking a new truck," Chiao said of unloading the cargo ship.
Chiao received photographs, cards and gifts from his wife and family as Christmas presents, while Sharipov received many gifts to remind him of his home in the Oshsk region of Russia's Kirghizia, the astronauts said.
"I think it will be great to ring in the new year on the space station," Sharipov said. "We hope the next year will be one of the happiest for the world and all its people, and of course, space exploration will continue."
A continuing mission
That the ISS will be part of that effort hit close to home for Chiao and Sharipov, who were prepared to leave the space station unmanned if their recent cargo delivery failed to arrive. Dwindling food supplies would have forced the two astronauts to return to Earth, they said.
"We were prepared to start the [departure] procedure, but of course we're very happy we didn't have to do that," Chiao said, adding that he and Salizhan cut their regular food consumption in half to conserve supplies, then made up for the lost calories by eating abundant desserts and candies. "It wasn't an unhealthy diet, but it wasn't an ideal diet either."
Chiao said the food shortage originated with the last ISS crew, Expedition 9's Gennady Padalka and Michael Fincke, who left the space station on Oct. 23. The former crew was given permission by ground controllers to dip into Expedition 10 food stores after finding a lack of variety in their own allotment, but communication problems resulted in ground controllers believing there was more food onboard than in reality, he added.
Progress 16 delivered 112-day supply of food to the ISS, about double what the crew would need until the next delivery from Progress 17 in March. The cargo ship also stocked the ISS with 1,234 pounds (559 kilograms) of propellant, about 12 pounds (5 kilograms) of new science experiments, as well as fresh oxygen and water supplies.
Chiao and Sharipov arrived at the ISS on Oct. 16 and are nearing the midpoint of their planned six-month stay aboard the station, but much work still awaits them.
In January 2005, the two ISS astronauts anticipate making the first of two spacewalks to support the space station. During the extravehicular activities, Chiao and Sharipov are expected to install new science hardware and complete preparations to ready the ISS for a new European cargo ship set to arrive in fall 2005.
The station's crew is also pre-packing much of the cargo expected to return to Earth aboard the space shuttle Discovery, NASA's first shuttle to fly since the Columbia accident on Feb. 1, 2003, which is currently scheduled to dock with the station in May 2005. However, Chiao and Sharipov will not be onboard the ISS when Discovery is set to arrive.
"We were very much looking forward to shuttle return to flight," Chiao said. "So we'll be gathering a lot of the material to go down on that shuttle so [the next crew] will be efficiently able to do the transfer."
One thing the Expedition 10 crew has not yet been able to do is make orbital observations of the Southeast Asia region that was devastated recently by a Dec. 26 tsunami that has killed almost 77,000 people across 12 nations, with many more homeless or injured. The space station has either passed over the region during its night interval or while the Expedition 10 crew was asleep, Chiao said.
"We did hear the tragic news about the tsunami and were deeply saddened for all the people affected," Chiao told reporters.
Complete Coverage: ISS Expedition 10