Science

Endeavour space shuttle docks at International Space Station

NASA's space shuttle Endeavour docked with the International Space Station on Sunday afternoon for a mission that will primarily focus on preparing the outpost to accommodate more astronauts for long-duration stays.

NASA's space shuttle Endeavour docked with the International Space Station on Sunday afternoon for a mission that will primarily focus on preparing the outpost to accommodate more astronauts for long-duration stays.

The shuttle arrived at about 5:01 p.m. ET with a full load of equipment to prepare the station for three more live-aboard residents, NASA said.

"International Space Station is, indeed, ready for extreme home makeover," station commander Mike Fincke radioed to the shuttle.

Endeavour's pilots made a final steering manoeuvre to align their spaceship. Cameras aboard the space station beamed down live video of the engine burn, visible from nearly 13 kilometres away.

The shuttle blasted off Friday night from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the fourth and final mission of the year.

The shuttle carries a second toilet, sleeping compartments, exercise gear and a water regeneration system to support an expanded, six-member crew. The device recycles crew urine and other wastewater and is considered essential to support  six-member crews.

Crews have been getting fresh water primarily from the space shuttles, which produce water as a byproduct of their electrical systems. Only nine more flights to the space station are planned, however, as NASA shifts its attention to developing a new craft that will be capable of ferrying astronauts to the moon as well as to the station. The last shuttle flight is expected in 2010.

The Endeavour crew also plans four challenging spacewalks to work on the station's power system. A huge rotary joint needed to pivot solar panels to face the sun was shut down last year after NASA discovered it was contaminated with metal filings.

Spacewalking astronauts plan to clean the joint, lubricate it and install new bearings. They also are scheduled for a round of preventive maintenance on the station's second rotary joint to ward off future problems.

Endeavour's stay at the station, slated for 11 days, is expected to be extended by a day to allow extra time to gather samples from the new water regeneration system.

Astronaut Sandra Magnus will be swapping places with station flight engineer Greg Chamitoff, who has been aboard the station since June. Magnus is scheduled to be replaced in February.

NASA and prime station partner Russia have been building the station for 10 years.

It is scheduled to be finished in 2010, at a cost of more than $100 billion US. Europe, Canada and Japan also are participating in the project.

With files from Reuters

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