Grand Experiment of 13 People on Space Station
By Irene Klotz
CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) – The most ambitious experiment planned for the International Space Station is not about science, but about people getting along and being productive in an isolated and risky environment.
With the arrival of the U.S. space shuttle Endeavour, which is scheduled for launch at 7:17 a.m. EDT (12:17 p.m. British time) Saturday from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, the number of astronauts aboard the station will swell to a record 13.
"I don't know what it's going to be like," said Endeavour commander Mark Polansky, a veteran of two prior spaceflights. "We know it's going to be challenging with 13 people aboard."
There's a lot more room aboard the space station since Polansky's last visit more than two years ago. Four more modules have been added to the $100 billion (60.3 billion GBP) research outpost, which orbits about 225 miles (360 km) above Earth.
The Endeavour crew will deliver and install a porch for science experiments that need to be exposed to the open space environment. Polansky and his crew are scheduled to reach the station less than three weeks after the live-aboard crew doubled in size from three members to six.
Europe's Frank De Winne, Canada's Robert Thirsk and Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko arrived at the space station on May 29 aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule.
The trio joined Koichi Wakata of Japan, NASA's Michael Barratt and Russian commander Gennady Padalka, marking the first time that astronauts and cosmonauts from all the station partners were together in orbit at one time.
The United States and Russia lead the station partnership, which includes the European, Japanese and Canadian space agencies.
"Everyone knows what it's like to have the in-laws and friends and other family members over for the holidays for several days," Thirsk said before his launch. "There are line-ups at the bathroom, meals have to be properly coordinated. Everyone loses their personal space a little bit, but it's something we're willing to go through."
The space station currently has nearly 26,000 cubic feet of pressurized space, about the same as a four-bedroom home. It has three laboratories and five other modules with sleeping berths for four, two bathrooms and two kitchens.
The U.S. and Japanese modules have temporary sleeping accommodations for two additional crew members.
The visiting shuttle astronauts said they will try to be good guests, though they will be needing to use the station's bathrooms and galleys.
Shuttle crews typically dump urine and other wastewater overboard during flight but during Endeavour's mission the practice will be curtailed to ensure the station's new porch stays pristine. That means the shuttle astronauts will be encouraged to bypass their ship's toilet in favour of using the station's two bathrooms.
One of the commodes is hooked up to a water recycling system that purifies the urine for drinking, which the shuttle astronauts will be using as well.
Polansky said one of the biggest problems with so many people aboard is that everyone wants to help.
"We're all type-A people and we want to get the job done. (It's like the) old adage about the cooks -- you could have too many folks trying to help and you actually do less with more, so what we need to do is make sure that we stay focussed on our tasks, that we don't interfere with each other," he said.
The Endeavour crew plans to conduct five spacewalks during their 16-day flight to install the new Japanese-built porch, replace batteries on one of the station's solar panel wings and position spares on platforms outside the outpost. The astronauts have taken extra pains to learn how to coordinate communications on radio links during the spacewalks, which include simultaneous operation of three robotic cranes.
"I'm sure there's going to be growing pains, there's no doubt about it," said Polanksy. "But it's going to be exciting to have that many folks up there."
(Editing by Jim Loney)
Source: Thompson Reuters