Space station crew set for overnight 'camp out'
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: April 3, 2006
The incoming and outgoing crews of the international space station have settled in for a week of hand-over work, along with an overnight "camp out" test aimed at making preparations for future spacewalks more efficient. Brazil's first astronaut, Marcos Pontes, appeared relaxed and all smiles at a news conference today, saying he's made good progress with a full slate of his own experiments and Earth observation photography.
"I imagine for the entire country (this) is a big event," Pontes said in English. "It's kind of a historical event. We were expecting this for a long time. This year is 100 years (since the) first Brazilian aviator, so it's a very significant moment for our country."
Expedition 13 commander Pavel Vinogradov, science officer Jeffrey Williams and Pontes arrived at the international station Friday night U.S. time. Vinogradov and Williams plan to spend six months aboard the outpost before being replaced by a fresh crew this fall. If all goes well, European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Reiter will blast off aboard the shuttle Discovery in July, giving the station a three-person crew for the first time since 2003 when the shuttle fleet was grounded after the Columbia disaster.
Pontes will return to Earth this weekend with Expedition 12 commander Bill McArthur and flight engineer Valery Tokarev, who are wrapping up their own six-month tour of duty.
"I was overwhelmed with my initial impressions of the space station," Williams said today. "Obviously, it's a lot different than it was when I was here in May of 2000 (as part of a visiting shuttle crew). It's very roomy, especially compared to a Soyuz capsule. Bill and Valery have put the space station in very good shape, we're very pleased with the condition of the vehicle and looking very much forward to our expedition after we send them safely home."
This evening, McArthur and Williams will spend the night in the space station's Quest airlock module as part of a test to demonstrate how future space shuttle assembly crews can use the module to more efficiently purge their bodies of nitrogen to prevent the bends during excursions in low-pressure space suits.
"Of course, it's very important that we try to eliminate the nitrogen in our bloodstreams before doing an EVA to minimize the chance of getting the condition called the bends, which is something that divers often experience," McArthur said. "In order to help eliminate nitrogen, it's helpful if we reduce the ambient pressure, the pressure around us. And so what Jeff and I are going to do is seal ourselves in the airlock tonight, reduce the pressure from the normal atmospheric pressure of 14.7 (psi) down to 10.2 (psi).
"We're interested in verifying that the onboard software will, in fact, manage the pressure and manage the correct percentage of oxygen while we're there. This is a test because upcoming shuttle crews hope to use this camp out inside the airlock to reduce the amount of oxygen pre-breathe time they do before actually depressing the airlock and going out.
"Jeff and I have got our sleeping bags, a lot of personal equipment in there," McArthur said. "Gosh, it's going to be pretty simple. After dinner, we're going to close the hatch, depress the airlock and visit for a little bit. Jeff and I are old Army buddies and so we'll just be telling old Army stories for while and go to sleep. In the morning, we'll wake up, repress, open the airlock and hopefully we'll have gathered all the data folks on the ground need to validate that function of the airlock."
Asked what he was looking forward to back on Earth, Tokarev laughed and said, "we are ready to go home! We accomplished all our tasks."
"Valery and I trained together for four-and-a-half years for this mission," McArthur said. "The whole experience has clearly been the apex of, at least, my professional career and maybe Valery's as well. I think the real pleasure was coming up here and living and working in space with a very good friend. Valery refers to us as 'space brothers,' so we really weren't away from family the whole time. So just doing the work, accomplishing the tasks we trained for for so long has been particularly gratifying. What are we looking forward to? We're looking forward to going home and seeing our families."
Williams said the hand-over discussions have been particularly helpful.
"Bill's got all kinds of great advice," he said. "Obviously, when you go into a new environment there are lots of things you can learn on your own the hard way or you can take advantage of the experience of somebody else that's be been in the environment. I don't think you really can appreciate the magnitude of the importance of those kinds of tips for working in this environment until you get here and just find out how difficult even some simple things can be. So the hand over in general, has gone very well. I'm very pleased and I feel very comfortable in my job in the U.S. segment when the Expedition 12 crew leaves this weekend."
McArthur, Tokarev and Pontes are scheduled to return to Earth on Saturday (U.S. time) aboard the Soyuz TMA-7 spacecraft that carried the ISS-12 crew into orbit last fall. Undocking is planned for 4:28 p.m. EDT with landing in Kazakhstan expected around 7:46 p.m. EDT.