Astronauts prepare to unpack Endeavour's cargo

By: MIKE SCHNEIDER, Associated Press Writer
By: MIKE SCHNEIDER, Associated Press Writer
HOUSTON – Astronauts aboard the international space station and the newly arrived shuttle Endeavour planned Monday to start unpacking a new toilet and a contraption that purifies urine and sweat into drinkable water at the orbiting outpost.

In this image from NASA TV, astronaut Stanley Love, suspended from a robotic arm, top center, moves an old space station gyroscope toward the space shuttle cargo bay during a spacewalk Friday, Feb. 15, 2008, the last spacewalk of the shuttle Atlantis' current mission to the international space station. The new Columbus lab, attached to the space station, is at right center. (AP Photo/NASA TV)

HOUSTON – Astronauts aboard the international space station and the newly arrived shuttle Endeavour planned Monday to start unpacking a new toilet and a contraption that purifies urine and sweat into drinkable water at the orbiting outpost.

The main business of the day is unloading a cargo container nicknamed "Leonardo" from space shuttle Endeavour's belly and attaching it to the international space station. Inside the 21-foot-long container is almost 15,000 pounds of equipment that will allow the space station to expand from three to six crew members next year.

"Things are going exceedingly well," said LeRoy Cain, chairman of the mission management team.

Besides the extra bathroom and urine processor, Endeavour delivered an exercise machine, kitchenette and two sleeping compartments. Endeavour docked with the space station Sunday afternoon almost two days after it launched from Florida.

The shuttle's crew will spend almost two weeks orbiting 220 miles above Earth at the outpost, setting up the new equipment and going on four spacewalks to clean and lubricate a solar wing-rotating joint that broke down more than a year ago.

Once the hatch opened between the space station and shuttle, it looked like a family reunion. The shuttle's seven astronauts exchanged a cacophony of greetings with the station's three crew members, wrapping one another in bear hugs and shaking hands. In a long-standing tradition, a bell was rung at the station's entrance.

"Sandy, welcome to your new home," space station commander Mike Fincke told astronaut Sandra Magnus, who traded places with astronaut Gregory Chamitoff as a space station crew member. After living for six months at the station, Chamitoff will return to Earth with Endeavour.

Analysts on the ground continued looking at images taken during launch and right before Endeavour docked. When Endeavour pulled within several hundred feet of the space station Sunday, shuttle commander Christopher Ferguson guided it through a 360-degree backflip so Fincke and Chamitoff could take close-up photos of its thermal shielding. About 200 digital images will help NASA determine whether Endeavour sustained damage during liftoff Friday night.

Shuttle officials initially thought a narrow strip of thermal blanket was yanked off during launch, but images showed the blanket remained intact. They now think the piece of debris seen coming off Endeavour or its external fuel tank during launch likely was a piece of ice, which didn't strike the shuttle.

Shuttle officials can order an extra inspection if they're concerned but won't make that decision until Tuesday. The extra precautions were implemented after the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated during re-entry in 2003 over Texas, killing all seven crew members.


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