Endeavour speeds toward space station
AFP - 38 minutes ago
CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida, (AFP) - - The space shuttle Endeavour sped Saturday to its rendezvous with the International Space Station, carrying seven American astronauts on a "home improvement" mission that will expand the station's living quarters.
The journey began with a spectacular Friday nighttime launch from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida.
"It was a great launch and a great team," said NASA Administrator Michael Griffin.
"We are off to a great start on what's going to be an extremely complex and challenging mission," echoed the sentiment top mission management LeRoy Cain.
The task of the Endeavour, which launched nearly 10 years to the day since a shuttle crew first began constructing the ISS on November 20, 1998, will be to repair the station's power-generating solar arrays and expand its living quarters to accommodate bigger crews.
"This mission is all about home improvement," shuttle commander Chris Ferguson said this week during launch preparations. "Home improvement inside and outside the station."
It will be the most extreme home makeover ever attempted by NASA astronauts. The additions will include two new sleeping quarters, exercise equipment, a second toilet, two new ovens to heat food, a refrigerator for food and drinks, a freezer and an oven for scientific experiments.
Endeavour is carrying 14.5 tonnes of material and equipment to the Italian module Leonardo, allowing for the ISS crew to expand from three to six in 2009.
As one NASA expert described it on NASA Television shortly after the launch, the upgrades will effectively turn the ISS into "a five-bedroom two-bath house with a kitchen, and support six residents on a continuing basis."
The astronauts also will be installing a system that can turn urine back into drinking water. The 250-million-dollar upgrade will allow enough recycling for a six-person ISS crew to sharply reduce the amount of water that has to be flown up from Earth.
Over the next day or so, astronauts aboard the ISS are expected to begin limbering up the space station's robotic arm to prepare for the inspection of Endeavour's heat protection shield ahead of the docking at 2213 GMT Sunday.
Four planned spacewalks during the mission will focus on servicing the station's solar wings, mainly the large joints that allow the apparatus to rotate to track the sun.
The wagon-wheel-shaped joints have become gummed up and astronauts essentially will need to perform a space-age lube job -- cleaning out the debris that has accumulated in the joints before lubricating them with grease.
The first spacewalk begins on the fifth day of the mission.
The 27th shuttle flight to the orbiting space station and the fourth and final shuttle mission for 2008 consists of a crew of five men and two women, all Americans.
While docked to the ISS, the Endeavour astronauts and ISS crew will mark the 10th anniversary of the International Space Station, a multi-billion-dollar collaborative effort between the space agencies of Canada, Europe, Japan, Russia and the United States.
Endeavour's crew includes commander Ferguson, 47, co-pilot Eric Boe, 44, and five other mission specialists including Sandra Magnus, 44.
She will replace compatriot Greg Chamitoff as ISS Expedition 18 flight engineer. Chamitoff is scheduled to return to Earth on Endeavour in late November while Magnus is to stay on through February 2009.
Endeavour's mission is scheduled to end November 29, though NASA has said the flight could well be extended a day.
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The space shuttle Endeavour sped Saturday to its rendezvous with the International Space Station, carrying seven American astronauts on a "home improvement" mission that will expand the station's living quarters.
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