Science, maintenance purpose of mission

Published 12:22 am Friday, October 9, 2009

Two of the seven astronauts that went up to the International Space Station staying there from late September to early August made a visit to the Stennis Space Center.

Mission Commander Rick Sturkow and Mission Specialist Pat Forrester were part of STS-128. They shared their experience up in space that most people never have.

Forrester said once the space shuttle docks with the space station, there are between 20 and 30 minutes of leak checks that need to be completed before the crew can board the station. Once they board the station, both crews engage in a number of traditions, one of which comes from an old Navy practice of ringing a bell.

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The other tradition deals with providing crew shirts to all of the astronauts, which helps to establish camaraderie between the two crews, Forrester said. After some short greetings, it was time to get down to bring in all the supplies the shuttle carried into orbit in a logistics module that housed about 15,200 pounds worth of supplies and materials.

“I like to think of it like a moving van,” Forrester said.

Among the things brought up to the station were science experiments, an ammonia tank and various supplies.

The ammonia tank helps to keep the space station cool. The supplies are supposed to help the station can get through the time after the shuttle program ends.

Sometime next year, the last habitable module will be added to the station, so part of the mission with STS 128 was to get those electrical connections set up.

Both crews sat down to a feast after all the work was completed that included Swedish, Russian and Canadian space food. While on the station, the astronauts also proved the process to recycle urine into drinkable water is working.

“We’re living proof that it’s okay,” Forrester said.

Sturkow said the station is almost complete, with only one or two pieces left to install. Since the implementation of having six crew members on the station he said that more scientific work will be completed. Just to run the station takes two people.

Most astronauts are in their 30s and 40s, partially due to the long list of accomplishments NASA requires for an astronaut candidate to even be considered. While Sturkow said he is only 29, Forrester, who has been up to the space station several times, said the effects of space are hard on the human body.

Some astronauts initially go through a transition of feeling ill their first time in space. The most severe side effect of space travel is not felt until astronauts place their feet back on the ground. Both Forrester and Sturkow said there are times when it is hard to even stand up after a space shuttle mission.

“The older you get, it actually gets easier,” Forrester said.

One of the studies that is being conducted in space involves observing how astronauts sleep in space and comparing that information to how they sleep on Earth, Sturkow said.