November 25, 2008

NASA Completes Testing On Urine Recycling System

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station celebrated after finally completing tests on a system that converts urine to drinking water on Tuesday.

"Not to spoil anything, but I think up here the appropriate words are 'Yippee!'" space station commander Mike Fincke told Mission Control early Tuesday morning, shortly before bedtime.

"There will be dancing later," Mission Control replied.

The system is crucial for future missions to the orbiting outpost, as it is expected to double the size of occupancy from three to six residents next year.

Endeavor astronauts will be bringing samples from the contraption to be analyzed on Earth by NASA. Engineers planned to keep the device operating all day in hopes of producing enough processed urine before Endeavour's departure on Friday.

"We're going to try to keep it going all day and have the crew just reload the (urine) tank as it gets low," Smith said.

The device, part of a $250 million new life-support system aboard the station, shut down during three previous attempts to purify urine.

Also, on Tuesday NASA studied the affects of four spacewalks intended to clean and lubricate a jammed solar-wing joint on the station's right side. The wing will be able to produce a much larger amount of energy than before, allowing for the orbiting outpost's crew to expand next year and allow more research 220 miles above Earth.

That joint had not worked properly for more than a year, preventing the solar wings on that side from pointing automatically toward the sun to generate electricity.

"We're going to need every watt of that power," said Fincke.

During the crew's first spacewalk last week, lead spacewalker Heide Stefanyshyn-Piper watched as a $100,000 tool kit floated out of reach. NASA said the tool kit was the largest loss reported from any mission.

That forced flight controllers to choreograph the other spacewalks with only one pair of grease guns. Endeavour commander Christopher Ferguson said Sunday that the shuttle's spacewalkers had overcome that loss with aplomb.

"There's months worth of testing left to go before we can really determine what impact all four (spacewalks) had on that joint," said flight director Brian Smith.

Endeavour undocks from the space station on Thanksgiving Day and returns to Earth on Saturday.


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