The crew of the eleventh mission to the International Space Station (ISS) istaking stock of what is now their orbital home for the next six months.
ISS Expedition 11 commander Sergei Krikalev and flight engineer John Phillips arrived at the space station early Sunday and almost immediately began preparations to take control of the orbital facility.
"My firstimpression, as compared to four years ago, is that there's a lot more stuff andmore lab equipment here," said Phillips, who visited the ISS in 2001 duringNASA's STS-100 mission, via video link during a press briefing Monday. "Plusthere's also been an accumulation of spare parts, as well as trash, that hasn'tbeen able to come back."
NASAgrounded its space shuttle fleet after the loss of the Columbia orbiter and seven astronauts during the STS-107 mission's reentryin 2003. Since then, space station astronauts have relied on Russian spacecraftfor crew rotations and automated cargo shipments, though neither the mannedSoyuz nor the unmanned Progress vehicle have the capacity offered by theshuttle.
"We needanother shuttle and many more Soyuz's to visit the station," Krikalev said.
Meanwhile,visiting Italian astronaut Roberto Vittori, who flewto the ISS with the Expedition 11 crew and represents the European SpaceAgency, has already set up half of the 22 experiments he will conduct over thenext eight days.
Vittoritold reporters that he had not yet dipped into the stash of Italian food hebrought to the ISS.
"But I didfind some lasagna in the American package," he added.
Vittoriand the Expedition 11 crew entered the space station at 12:45 a.m. EDT (0445GMT) on April 17 after docking their Soyuz TMA-6 vehicle at the Russian-built Pirs docking compartment just over two hours earlier. Thethree men launchedinto space on April 14 at 8:46 p.m. EDT (0046 April 15 GMT), though it wasearly morning at their Baikonur Cosmodromelaunch site.
Preparing for home
Krikalevand Phillips are relieving the space station's current masters, Expedition 10commander Leroy Chiao and flight engineer Salizhan Sharipov, who arescheduled to return home with Vittori on April 24.
Chiao andSharipov boardedthe ISS in October 2004 and have spent the last six months maintaining thestation, conducting experiments and perpetuating a human presence in space.
"I thinkone of the big moments for me was the second EVA,"said Chiao, an accomplished spacewalker, during thepress briefing. "Basically it was the last EVA of my career, my flying career,so it was poignant for me to look out into the black emptiness of space and bid open spacefarewell."
Sharipovsaid he was pleased that the Expedition 10 mission has been accomplished andthat he and Chiao are turning the station over totheir successors in good condition.
A change ofcommand ceremony between the Expedition 10 and Expedition 11 crews is scheduledfor April 22.
Countdown until shuttle
The workdoesn't stop for Krikalev and Phillips once theExpedition 10 crew and Vittori depart the station.
The two menexpect to see NASA's first ISS-bound space shuttle flight in more than yearslaunch toward the station in the next month or so. That mission, STS-114 aboardDiscovery, is NASA's first test flight to prove new safety tools and techniquesfor shuttle flight.
"We've gota lot of preparation to do," Phillips said, adding that there are a number oftrash items, equipment and other parts earmarked for an Earth return. "Thatinvolves packing all of these objects.
The shuttleDiscovery and its STS-114 crew, commanded by veteran astronaut Eileen Collins,are currently scheduled to launch sometime between May 15 and June 3.
But untilthen, the Expedition 11 crew will prepare for Discovery's visit whilefamiliarizing themselves with their new home.
"So far,for me, the hardest thing is just finding stuff," said Phillips, adding that heis eager to learn supply locations without having to check the station'sdatabase. "After one day, it's just keeping track of my stuff."
- Complete Coverage: ISS Expedition 10
- Complete Coverage: ISS Expedition 11