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Station residents say outpost ready for bigger crew
Posted: April 15, 2009

The International Space Station's power, life support and emergency systems are in good condition and ready for the arrival of three additional crew members in late May, the commander said Wednesday. Michael Barratt, a NASA astronaut and flight surgeon making his first flight, said the crew has been cleared to use processed urine and condensate for personal hygiene and expects permission to begin drinking the recycled water in the next few weeks.

Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata, vommander Gennady Padalka and NASA astronaut Michael Barratt. Credit: NASA
Barratt also said he looked forward to "running on Colbert" when a new treadmill, named after comedian Stephen Colbert, is delivered to the station later this year.

Colbert recently urged viewers to vote for him in a NASA competition to name a new space station module. His choice - the Colbert module - came in first, but NASA announced on his show Tuesday that the module would instead be named Tranquility. Astronaut Sunita Williams, a space station veteran, told the comedian a new treadmill would be known as the Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill, or COLBERT.

Asked today what he thought of the gesture, Barratt told CBS News "I think the more people we reach, the better, and Mr. Colbert does a great job. I'm just looking forward to running on Colbert and living in Tranquility."

Exercise is a critical element of life aboard the space station and keeping six people fit will be an ongoing challenge. NASA and its international partners hope to boost the lab's crew size to six in late May when cosmonaut Roman Romanenko, European Space Agency astronaut Frank De Winne and Canadian Space Agency astronaut Robert Thirsk join Barratt, Expedition 19 Commander Gennady Padalka and Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata.

"Space station is really in a good operational condition," Padalka told CBS News. "All ECLSS (environmental control and life support) systems in the Russian segment are operational and in great condition. ... We're ready to get six-person crew on board."

Barratt said he did not anticipate any major problems, primarily because "the station is huge, and it really needs six people to man it and get as much work out of it as it was designed to provide."

"This is a huge station, and it's more than big enough to accommodate six people and their productive work," he said. "We worry a little bit about the consumables and the resources to support six people continually - the food, water, the communications resources and everything to make the people who live up here as productive as possible. But no, there's plenty of room for six people. During shuttle dockings, by the way, we'll be up to 13 for a period of 10 to 12 days. So we're big enough, I think, to accommodate the full crew of six."

Credit: NASA
To support six people, the station's life support system must be able to recycle condensate and urine for drinking, crew hygiene, food preparation and oxygen generation. The water recycling system initially had problems with a vacuum distillation unit centrifuge that was installed late last year. But the crew of the most recent shuttle assembly mission delivered a replacement and the system appears to be operating normally. Samples returned aboard the shuttle currently are undergoing laboratory analysis to make sure the water is safe to use.

"We have already been given a go to use the water for hygiene and we do a little bit of that," Barratt said. "We're expecting an answer, probably within the next couple of weeks, on using it for potable water. So far, everything has been looking fairly positive, but we're waiting for the definitive answer."

As a flight surgeon, Barratt brings a unique perspective to monitoring his own body's adaptation to weightlessness.

"It is an adaptation over time," he said today. "You're definitely not at your best the first couple of days of space flight, especially as a first-time flier. Every system adapts at a slightly different rate. Some of it you feel, and some of it you don't feel. Some of it is just very difficult to quantify. Fluids tend to shift to your face and you feel a little bit flushed and puffy and over a period of a week to two weeks, that starts to go down.

"Other things, like just learning to fly through the station gracefully and keep kind of a three-D image in your head while you're doing it and not bump into anything that is really expensive or might hurt you if you bump it back. In general, everything gets better as the days go on and right now, after a little over two weeks on orbit, I feel great. From what I understand from reading and talking to other people, people go on from this and several weeks later they say they even feel better. So I think it's a continual process."

NASA and its international partners are making the jump to six-person crew as the space station nears completion and the shuttle program enters its final stages. It is a critical period for NASA, but the Obama administration has not yet named an administrator to replace Mike Griffin, whose tenure ended on inauguration day.

Barratt said "it may be critical that we get an administrator as soon as possible, but I would say it's a wonderful time for NASA because we do have this facility up here, we've almost finished building it and we're starting to realize the productivity out of it we had always planned."

"We have new ships on the drawing board and a lot of smart people that design the station, that operate it day to day and really make the daily process of NASA work. They are still in place and are not going anywhere anytime soon. So I feel very confident in the infrastructure, that we'll be able to continue operating.

"We'd like an administrator soon - sooner is better, certainly - but I think we're on a course and I think we'll stay that course right now with station and hopefully the new vehicle will come in its allotted time."

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