February 14, 2008

Shuttle Astronauts to Take Time Off During Busy Mission

This story was updated at 5:45 a.m. EST.

HOUSTON — The seven astronauts of
NASA's shuttle Atlantis are spending Valentine's Day with their very own Dr.
Love and are due for a break as they start up a new European lab at the
International Space Station (ISS).

Dr. Stanley Love, an
astronomer-turned-astronaut, and his STS-122 crewmates are scheduled to have a
few hours off today to explore the ISS or peer down at their home planet before
resuming work on the newly
installed Columbus lab
for the European Space Agency (ESA).

Flight controllers at NASA's Mission
Control here at the Johnson Space Center roused the crew at 3:45 a.m. EST (0845
GMT) with the song "Consider Yourself at Home," a tune from the musical "Oliver!"
played especially for Love by his family.

"That's a wonderful song, thanks so
much for sending it," said Love, 42. He thanked his parents and family "and
people who may be feeling there's one fewer Love on Earth this Valentine's Day.
But I'd like to assure them that it's great to be up here, and I'll be home soon."

In addition to resting and working
with the 1.4 billion euro ($2 billion) Columbus, Atlantis astronauts are
expected to take an orbital call from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and
discuss their spaceflight with reporters. Among the spaceflyers launched to the
ISS aboard Atlantis were ESA astronauts Hans Schlegel, of Germany, and Leopold
Eyharts of France

Schlegel, a veteran astronaut, completed
his first-ever spacewalk
on Wednesday with crewmate Rex Walheim
after missing an earlier outing due to an illness.

"It's great," Schlegel said while working
outside the station. "You can really see the curvature of the Earth."

The Atlantis crew is the middle of
what is now a
13-day mission
to install Columbus and swap out one member of the space
station's three-person Expedition 16 crew. Mission managers extended the
spaceflight, which launched Feb. 7, by one day late Wednesday to give the
astronauts more time to outfit the 23-foot (7-meter) long Columbus lab for
orbital flight.

"Certainly we look forward to
another day on board the space station," Atlantis commander Stephen Frick
radioed down to NASA's Mission Control here at the Johnson Space Center after
hearing of the extra day.

NASA ISS flight controller Ron
Spencer said astronauts will focus their extra day primarily on the activation
of Biolab, a biological research rack inside the ESA's
Columbus lab.

"We're going
to finish outfitting the Biolab payload, which was
delivered in the Columbus module, so that they can begin science operations
immediately after undock," Spencer said in a Thursday mission status update.

The new module's activation was
waylaid yesterday by a software glitch that prevented commands from the ESA's
mission control center near Munich, Germany from uploading into Columbus. But
by the day's end, flight controllers had fixed the problem and sent all the
required commands, mission managers said.

"We're thrilled to be part of the
activation of a brand new lab on the space station," Atlantis mission
specialist Dan Tani told Munich flight controllers.

Tani is completing a two-month tour
as part of the station's Expedition 16 crew and will return to Earth with
Atlantis' STS-122 crew next week. Eyharts will replace Tani and stay aboard the
station until NASA's next shuttle mission arrives in March.

The shuttle crew also received word
that their spacecraft's heat shield was cleared for landing, which is now set
for Feb. 20.

"That's great news about the [thermal
protection system]," Frick said.

The 10 astronauts aboard Atlantis
and the space station will also spend some time today preparing for a planned
Friday spacewalk. That excursion, the third spacewalk of the STS-122 mission, will
send Love and Walheim outside the ISS to attach science experiments to the
exterior of Columbus, retrieve a broken gyroscope, inspect a balky solar wing
joint and use a cobbled-together tool to determine whether a damaged handrail
near the station's Quest airlock may pose a tear hazard for spacesuit gloves.

Love discovered the ding — which Mission
Control gave the lighthearted name "Love Crater" — during a Monday spacewalk.
Astronauts will wrap a metal tool with a spacesuit glove overwrap, known as an overglove, to test the ding's effect on spacesuit fabric.

"The crew
is going to go out there and rub this on the handrail to see if there's any damage
on the glove," Spencer said.

NASA is broadcasting Atlantis'
STS-122 mission live on NASA TV. Click
for SPACE.com's shuttle mission coverage and NASA TV feed.