Mission begins for space station replacements
New crew to host upcoming shuttle mission
By Tariq Malik
(SPACE.com) -- The crew of the eleventh mission to the international space station (ISS) is taking stock of what is now their orbital home for the next six months.
ISS Expedition 11 commander Sergei Krikalev and flight engineer John Phillips arrived at the space station early Sunday and almost immediately began preparations to take control of the orbital facility.
"My first impression, as compared to four years ago, is that there's a lot more stuff and more lab equipment here," said Phillips, who visited the ISS in 2001 during NASA's STS-100 mission, via video link during a press briefing Monday. "Plus there's also been an accumulation of spare parts, as well as trash, that hasn't been able to come back."
NASA grounded its space shuttle fleet after the loss of the Columbia orbiter and seven astronauts during the STS-107 mission's reentry in 2003. Since then, space station astronauts have relied on Russian spacecraft for crew rotations and automated cargo shipments, though neither the manned Soyuz nor the unmanned Progress vehicle have the capacity offered by the shuttle.
"We need another shuttle and many more Soyuz's to visit the station," Krikalev said.
Meanwhile, visiting Italian astronaut Roberto Vittori, who flew to the ISS with the Expedition 11 crew and represents the European Space Agency, has already set up half of the 22 experiments he will conduct over the next eight days.
Vittori told reporters that he had not yet dipped into the stash of Italian food he brought to the ISS.
"But I did find some lasagna in the American package," he added.
Vittori and the Expedition 11 crew entered the space station at 12:45 a.m. EDT (0445 GMT) on April 17 after docking their Soyuz TMA-6 vehicle at the Russian-built Pirs docking compartment just over two hours earlier. The three men launched into space on April 14 at 8:46 p.m. EDT (0046 April 15 GMT), though it was early morning at their Baikonur Cosmodrome launch site.
Preparing for home
Krikalev and Phillips are relieving the space station's current masters, Expedition 10 commander Leroy Chiao and flight engineer Salizhan Sharipov, who are scheduled to return home with Vittori on April 24.
Chiao and Sharipov boarded the ISS in October 2004 and have spent the last six months maintaining the station, conducting experiments and perpetuating a human presence in space.
"I think one of the big moments for me was the second EVA," said Chiao, an accomplished spacewalker, during the press briefing. "Basically it was the last EVA of my career, my flying career, so it was poignant for me to look out in to the black, open space and bid space farewell."
Sharipov said he was pleased that the Expedition 10 mission has been accomplished and that he and Chiao are turning the station over to their successors in good condition.
A change of command ceremony between the Expedition 10 and Expedition 11 crews is scheduled for April 22.
Countdown until shuttle
The work doesn't stop for Krikalev and Phillips once the Expedition 10 crew and Vittori depart the station.
The two men expect to see NASA's first ISS-bound space shuttle flight in more than years launch toward the station in the next month or so. That mission, STS-114 aboard Discovery, is NASA's first test flight to prove new safety tools and techniques for shuttle flight.
"We've got a lot of preparation to do," Phillips said, adding that there are a number of trash items, equipment and other parts earmarked for an Earth return. "That involves packing all of these objects.
The shuttle Discovery and its STS-114 crew, commanded by veteran astronaut Eileen Collins, are currently scheduled to launch sometime between May 15 and June 3.
But until then, the Expedition 11 crew will prepare for Discovery's visit while familiarizing themselves with their new home.
"So far, for me, the hardest thing is just finding stuff," said Phillips, adding that he is eager to learn supply locations without having to check the station's database. "After one day, it's just keeping track of my stuff."
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