HOUSTON (Reuters) - Space shuttle Endeavour docked at the International Space Station on Sunday on an outer-space home improvement mission to add amenities like a new toilet and kitchen to the 10-year-old orbital outpost.
Shuttle commander Chris Ferguson nudged the shuttle into a docking berth on the station’s Harmony module as the spacecraft soared 212 miles (340 km) above India. Soon after, astronauts floated weightlessly through a tunnel and into the welcoming arms of their colleagues aboard the $100 billion station.
“We understand that this house is in need of an extreme makeover and that you are the crew to do it,” station commander Mike Fincke said. “Welcome to space.”
The shuttle’s two-day journey began with a moonlit launch on Friday from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.
The astronauts will turn the station into a five-bedroom, two-bath orbital house with dual kitchens, allowing it to accommodate six astronauts - double its current complement.
The Endeavour crew also plans four challenging spacewalks to work on the station’s power system. A huge rotary joint needed to pivot solar panels to face the sun was shut down last year after NASA discovered it was contaminated with metal filings.
Astronauts plan to clean and lubricate the joint and install new bearings. They will also do preventive maintenance on another rotary joint to avoid future problems.
By the time Endeavour arrived at the space station, flight controllers in Houston already were looking at pictures of the shuttle’s heat shield to check that the craft had arrived in orbit without serious damage from debris during launch.
NASA added the inspections in the wake of the 2003 Columbia disaster when the shuttle broke apart as it flew through the atmosphere due to wing damage from a piece of foam that fell off during launch. All seven astronauts aboard died.
NASA redesigned the shuttle’s fuel tank so it would not shed insulation and added a series of in-flight inspections. The crew at the space station said they did not see anything amiss on the shuttle Endeavour.
“It looked really good,” Fincke told flight controllers.
The shuttle is also carrying a device that recycles urine and is considered essential to support a crew of six once NASA phases out space shuttle flights - expected in 2010.
Only nine more flights to the space station are planned as NASA shifts towards developing a new craft that will be capable of ferrying astronauts to the moon as well as to the station.
Endeavour’s stay at the station, slated for 11 days, is expected to be extended a day to allow extra time to gather samples from the new water regeneration system.
Astronaut Sandra Magnus will be swapping places with station flight engineer Greg Chamitoff, who has been aboard the outpost since June. Magnus is scheduled to be replaced in February.
NASA and Russia have been building the station for 10 years. It is scheduled to be finished in 2010, at a cost of more than $100 billion. Europe, Canada and Japan also are project participants.
Editing by Eric Walsh
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