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Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide (right) will help install a bus-sized lab at the international space station.
Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide (right) will help install a bus-sized lab at the international space station. Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images
The seven astronauts aboard space shuttle Discovery are now well on their way to the international space station after a successful Saturday afternoon launch.
Discovery will deliver a lot of stuff, including spare parts for a well-documented toilet problem. Also a toy astronaut — a 12-inch tall Buzz Lightyear action figure.
But the shuttle's most important cargo is a new science lab the size of a bus. It was built by Japan's space agency. Astronaut Akihiko Hoshide will help install it.
"This is a big milestone for the Japanese community," Hoshide says. "A lot of people worked on this for 20-plus years."
The lab looks like a big cylinder with racks on the walls for science equipment. It will be the station's biggest room.
Mike Suffredini is NASA's program manager for the station. After this mission, he says, the outpost will have 10- to 11,000 cubic feet of living space. That's sort of like an apartment that's 1,000 square feet, with 10-foot ceilings. But in space, you can float up to those ceilings, making it a very large home.
Besides installing the new lab, the crew will have other chores. One of them will be to go outside and try to clean part of the station's solar power system. An important joint that turns solar panels is jammed up with metal shavings.
"So we're literally going out there with the kinds of tools you'd have in your garage," says Astronaut Mike Fossum, adding that crew members will test different cleaning techniques.
They'll try to scrape the grease, or wipe it with a towel, to see if they can remove the crud without it floating away and making an even bigger mess.
Another repair job involves the station's only toilet. It's been acting dodgy for days. Kirk Shireman is deputy program manager for the space station. He says NASA scrambled to get a replacement part, a pump, onto the shuttle.
If the fix doesn't work, the crew can use the shuttle's toilet — at least for awhile. The mission is expected to last two weeks.