Endeavour heads for space station on home makeover mission

November 15th, 2008 - 4:54 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Nov 15 (Xinhua) US space shuttle Endeavour carrying seven astronauts aboard headed Saturday for the international space station on a home makeover mission.The shuttle with a beautiful orange full moon as backdrop blasted off from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida Friday night. According to NASA, the launch went smoothly without any technical issues popping up.

After successfully jettisoning its rocket boosters and external tank, Endeavour now is safely in orbit and all systems are running well, US space agency NASA’s real-time launch blog reported.

The shuttle will scuttle in space for two days before it arrives at the space station. It is carrying about 32,000 pounds supplies and equipment necessary to expand the insides of the space station, adding some extra bedrooms and a spare bathroom and kitchenette.

In the cargo are two sleeping quarters, a second toilet, a resistance exercise device and a water purification system, which will allow residents up there to recycle urine and waste water for drinking.

“We are taking a three-bedroom, one-bathroom house and turning it into a five-bedroom, two-bathroom house with a gym,” said shuttle Commander Christopher Ferguson. The new house will enable long-term, self-sustaining station operations after the US shuttle fleet is retired in 2010.

Endeavour’s all-American crew includes five men and two women. Flight engineer Sandra Magnus, 44, will join the existing 18 crew aboard the ISI and flight engineer Greg Chamitoff will return to earth after spending over five months in space.

The 15-day flight of Endeavour will also feature important repair work outside of the station. With thier four planned spacewalks, the astronauts will primarily focus on servicing the station’s two Solar Alpha Rotary Joints, which allow its solar arrays to track the sun.

A massive joint that rotates half of the solar wings towards the sun has been jammed for more than a year; it’s clogged with metal grit from grinding parts. The spacewalking astronauts will clean and lubricate that joint, replace its bearings and apply extra grease to keep a twin joint working.

The spacewalkers will also install a new nitrogen tank, a global positioning system, an antenna and a camera on the station’s Integrated Truss Assembly.

“This mission is all about home improvement,” Ferguson said. “Home improvement inside and outside the station.”

It would also be a good way to mark the 10th birthday of the station on Nov 20, the day when the first station module was launched into space and construction began a decade ago.

“We’ll be transitioning to true utilization and setting up for six-person crew at that 10-year bench mark,” said Mike Sarafin, NASA’s lead shuttle flight director.

“It’s been a tremendous international effort to get to this point, and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate it,” Sarafin said.

Endeavour is scheduled to return to Earth Nov 29. Only 10 shuttle flights remain before the US space shuttle fleet is retired, including a final servicing call to the Hubble Space Telescope.

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