Posted on behalf of Ashley Yeager
On 14 November, NASA’s space shuttle Endeavour will rocket toward the heavens carrying almost fifteen thousand kilograms of equipment and supplies to the International Space Station (ISS). Included in the payload will be an extra toilet, sleeping quarters and exercise equipment for the crew, as well as materials to service the station’s solar panels.
Currently, the ISS can comfortably house three astronauts. But, by adding the additional toilet and other supplies, NASA and other space agencies hope to expand the space station and by spring 2009, it could accommodate six crew members for long-duration missions.
“We’re taking a three-bedroom, one-bathroom house and turning it into a five-bedroom, two-bathroom house with a gym,” STS-126 mission commander Chris Ferguson said in a NASA press release.
During the 15-day mission, the astronauts will also perform four space walks, which will focus mainly on cleaning and servicing the station’s machinery and solar arrays. The upgrade will ensure the station can generate the power to support the three additional crew members. The shuttle and ISS crewmembers not taking a walk on the outside will unpack the new sleeping quarters and toilet as well as a new kitchen, refrigerator and science experiments.
“We’re going to use up a lot of the new space that we’ve brought up on the past few missions,” lead shuttle flight director Mike Sarafin said. “The six-person crew is an important step toward utilizing the space station to its full capability.”
Using the extra space will also make the space station more self-sufficient and less dependent on the space shuttle for supplies. The crew members will install a new regenerative environmental control and life support system, which will give the station the ability to recycle urine and the water vapour that the crew breathes into the air into purified liquid water. It will later be used for drinking or to cool the station’s other systems.
The major upgrades to the space station come as it marks its tenth birthday—Russia launched the first ISS module on 20 November 1998.
Image: Endeavour rolling out for a previous mission / NASA