Shuttle astronauts focus on cargo transfers to station (UPDATED)

Editor's note...
  • Posted at 05:46 AM EDT, 07/13/11: Shuttle astronauts focus on cargo transfers to station
  • Updated at 06:50 PM EDT, 07/13/11: Astronauts halfway through supply transfers; station toilet back in operation
CBS News

With a final shuttle-era spacewalk behind them, the Atlantis astronauts focused on logistics transfers Wednesday, devoting their day to moving cargo and supplies from the shuttle's crew cabin and the Raffaello multi-purpose module into the International Space Station. They also took time for maintenance work, servicing the lab's U.S. toilet and restarting the crew's urine recycling system after standing down a day to let a strong odor dissipate.

"That's the great thing about spaceflight," joked space station astronaut Michael Fossum, whose fellow spacewalker Ronald Garan worked on the toilet Wednesday. "One day, you're doing the most outrageous thing humans have ever done -- spacewalking. The next day, you're fixing toilets and packing boxes."

A view into the Raffaello multi-purpose logistics module early Wednesday. The shuttle crew plans to spend the next several days moving equipment and supplies into the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA TV)
Carried aloft in Atlantis' payload bay, Raffaello was launched with 9,403 pounds of supplies and equipment packed inside, including 2,677 pounds of food to provision the station crew through 2012. Another ton of logistics was carried inside the shuttle's crew cabin.

The supplies delivered by the Atlantis astronauts, along with provisions aboard Russian cargo ships, will keep the six-member crew supplied through 2012.

"We have a lot of clothing, a lot of food and of course we want to put the space station in a good position to be self-sustaining for up to a year and that's about what it takes," shuttle commander Christopher Ferguson said in a NASA interview. "We're also taking a lot of environmental supplies. We have the urine processor on board (the station), and that requires a fairly scheduled and systematic delivery of filter tanks ... we'll be taking six or seven of those, a lot of other components for the environmental system.

"We'll be bringing back an awful lot as well. We'll be bringing back a heat exchanger and a lot of the components that were stationed full time aboard the ISS just to support the space shuttle. We can bring that all back with us. Like I said, in addition to delivering an awful lot of cargo we're also hoping to offload trash, maybe things that could be repaired and sent back up (aboard unmanned cargo ships)."

The station's three Russian crew members helped out with cargo transfers Wednesday morning before carrying out a variety of maintenance activities later in the day.

Space station Flight Director Chris Edelen said the astronauts are about 50 percent complete with work to unload the multi-purpose logistics module and re-pack it with no longer needed equipment and trash.

"The crew is now about halfway complete unloading the Raffaello multi-purpose logistics module, moving that cargo out of the module and into the space station and bringing back the spare parts, the trash and other various pieces of equipment that will be coming back to Earth.

"If you saw some of the downlink video, you may have noticed it's very cluttered in the logistics module, there are bags and boxes everywhere, just like in your house on moving day. But it's a controlled chaos. The team here in Houston is working very closely with the crew, they've choreographed the movements of equipment in and out of the logistics module so there's a place for everything. We're making sure, very carefully, that everything we need for resupplying the station ends up on the station and everything we want to come home ends up in Raffaello."

One area of interest to flight controllers has been the performance of the U.S. toilet and urine recycling system in the Tranquility module. The crew reported a strong odor around the equipment Monday. The urine processor was shut down and the intensity of the smell subsided.

"Ron Garan spent several hours working on the space station toilet, the waste hygiene compartment," Edelen said. "He replaced several components there that were starting to give some noises and vibrations that were indicating those components were approaching their end of life. He replaced those and now reports the space station toilet is working just fine.

The toilet is tied into NASA's urine recycling system, which produces ultra-pure water for drinking and other uses. About 10 days ago, a leak was detected in the system and in the process of making repairs, air got into the urine processor.

"And so we've been very gingerly and very carefully doing our urine processing to make sure we're not over-stressing any of the components in that," Edelen said. "There was a report of an odor the day before yesterday that we believe is associated with that air as it works its way out of the system.

The system was restarted Wednesday and operated for nearly four hours without any problems or objectionable smells.

"This is an important technology we are demonstrating and perfecting in low-Earth orbit so that it can be used on future missions into deep space," Edelen said. "It's vitally important that we recycle all our water, all forms of our water, because it's so heavy you can't resupply a mission with water when you're far from the Earth."