Shuttle Hauling Equipment To Expand Space Station

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A new toilet and fridge will soon be orbiting the Earth. Astronauts on board space shuttle Endeavour will take a load of new equipment up to the International Space Station, to get everything ready so that next year the station can double its crew from three to six. The space shuttle is scheduled to lift off Friday night.

ARI SHAPIRO, host:

Re-modeling a kitchen or bathroom can be a huge headache. So imagine how much tougher it is when a home you're remodeling is orbiting the earth. Seven astronauts are scheduled to blast off tonight in the space shuttle Endeavour. They'll travel to the International Space Station to install more bedrooms, a second bathroom, and a new kitchen. NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce reports.

NELL GREENFIELDBOYCE: For the last decade, the focus of NASA's space shuttle program has been bringing up people, supplies, and big hunks of hardware to construct the orbiting station. Astronauts have bolted on science labs, docking stations and huge solar panels, constantly changing the shape of the station. But NASA's Mike Suffredini says not this time.

Mr. MIKE SUFFREDINI (Manager, International Space Station): In this case, when the crew leaves, the station won't look any different on the outside. But it will be dramatically different on the inside.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: He says the goal is to get the living quarters ready, so that next year, the station's full time crew can be doubled from three people to six. This will free up astronauts to do more science on the multibillion dollar outpost.

Mr. SUFFREDINI: The reason why we want a six-person crew is to be able to utilize space station. It's such a large vehicle that just the maintenance of such a vehicle with only three crew members gets to be very difficult.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Suffredini says the shuttle will deliver a bunch of stuff that the extra crew members will need.

Mr. SUFFREDINI: We're bringing up the waste and hygiene compartment.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: That's a bathroom.

Mr. SUFFREDINI: We're bringing up the hardware necessary for the galley.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: That's a kitchenette.

Mr. SUFFREDINI: And we're bringing up the sleep stations, two of the four sleep stations that will eventually make their way to the ISS.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Sleep stations are the bedrooms of the International Space Station, or ISS. But these bedrooms don't have beds. Imagine a padded compartment the size of a small closet with a sleeping bag attached to the wall, that's where astronauts can snooze as they float in zero gravity. The station's new toilet will also be a little different from terrestrial toilets. Astronaut Donald Pettit says a distillation system will recycle the Astronaut's urine and turn it into clean drinking water.

Mr. DONALD PETTIT (Astronaut, NASA): I like to refer to this whole process as a coffee machine because it's going to take yesterday's coffee and make it into today's coffee.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: But the crew won't drink the recycled water right away. They'll have to test out an onboard monitor that's going to analyze the liquid for contaminants. And Astronaut Sandra Magnus says water samples will also be sent back to earth to verify that everything is working well.

Ms. SANDRA MAGNUS (Astronaut, NASA): Then we'll be given the go to actually drink it.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: And if they want, they can drink it cold, because this shuttle mission will also be bringing up a fridge that can store cold beverages. That would be a welcome change for astronauts who live on the station for months. Magnus says the old kitchen in the station's Russian module only provides warm or hot water.

Ms. MAGNUS: It seems kind of trivial, but six months of lukewarm orange juice can kind of bum you out.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Not all of the astronaut's work will take place inside. Three astronauts will also venture out on space walks. Their job is to clean and lubricate a big joint that normally turns a set of solar panels to face that sun. That joint is full of metal grit that's jamming it up. NASA wants it to move more easily, so the panels can generate more power. Astronaut Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper says they'll use a special gun to squirt in some dark gray grease.

Ms. HEIDEMARIE STEFANYSHYN-PIPER (Astronaut, NASA): You know, we're well aware of the fact that - not to get grease all over ourselves. We want to make sure that we get the grease where it's supposed to go.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: But home repairs can be messy. So just in case, the crew is bringing up plenty of cleaning wipes. Nell Greenfieldboyce, NPR News.

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