Shuttle approaches space station

Other News Materials 16 November 2008 19:35 (UTC +04:00)

A Nasa shuttle is due shortly to dock with the International Space Station on a mission to refurnish its living quarters and drop off a new astronaut, BBC reported.

The Endeavour is carrying 4,000lb (6,500kg) of fittings to allow the station to accomodate six crew members instead of the current three.

Sandra Magnus is set to join the crew, replacing Gregory Chamitoff.

Engineers studying film of Endeavour's launch from Florida have found no obvious signs of damage from debris.

At least two pieces were spotted during the launch on Friday night, sparking fears that a narrow strip of thermal blanket may have been torn off.

Such inspections are standard since the Columbia disaster of 2003, when debris from the external tank struck the shuttle, damaging the heat shield and causing its destruction as it tried to re-enter the atmosphere. All seven crew members died.

Endeavour is making the final orbiter mission of 2008.

Four spacewalks are planned on the 15-day flight, including repairs to joint damage on the ISS's solar arrays.

The mission has been dubbed Extreme Home Improvements. It will see the crew installing new crew quarters, with an additional bathroom and a galley.

There will be two new sleeping compartments, more exercise gear and a second toilet.

Nasa plans to double the station's crew size as early as May.

Also in the cargo is a water regeneration system that distils, filters, ionises and oxidises wastewater - including urine - into fresh water for drinking.

The equipment has been packed inside refrigerator-sized racks that require forklifts to lift them on Earth but in space, a single astronaut can move a rack around with little problem.

Endeavour and its crew are due to land back at Kennedy on 30 November.

The flight is the fourth mission of the year.

Nasa had hoped to fly a servicing call to the Hubble Space Telescope last month but delayed the mission to May 2009 to prepare for some additional repair work on the observatory.

In all, Nasa plans 10 more shuttle flights before the fleet is retired in 2010.