Technology & Science

Astronauts share their thoughts about life in space

Thirteen astronauts aboard the International Space Station, including Canada's Julie Payette and Robert Thirsk, shared their thoughts about living and working in space during a news conference on Sunday afternoon.

Thirteen astronauts aboard the International Space Station, including Canada's Julie Payette and Robert Thirsk, shared their thoughts about living and working in space during a news conference on Sunday afternoon.

Pilot Doug Hurley told reporters via a satellite hookup that it was "a big, big thrill" to fly NASA's space shuttle Endeavour, which docked at the international space station earlier this month, and to do the flybys over the Earth.

Seven astronauts aboard Endeavour joined the six astronauts already on the space station on July 15. They are there to complete construction of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Kibo Laboratory. 

The $100-billion US space station, a project of 16 nations, has been under construction for nearly 11 years and is nearing completion. It has grown very large and is now more than 105 metres wide, has 378 cubic metres of labs and living quarters, and would weigh about 301,500 kilograms on Earth.

Astronaut Tom Marshburn described the beautiful scenes he witnessed while working.

"The views were incredible and the feeling that you get from working with the team — sitting on the end of an arm and working with the robotic operators and the rest of the team — is just unforgettable," he said.

A reporter asked what the mission meant to Payette, considering it was her last one.

"Unless I did a very poor job … I think that there's a good chance that I'll still be employed when I get back on the ground," she said. "So there's a chance that I will come back and live on the space station. I surely hope so."

Testing human endurance

Payette, who was born in Montreal, will return to Earth on Friday with her space shuttle crew members, but fellow Canadian Thirsk, who has been at the station since May, won't return until November.

A major goal of his six-month mission, dubbed Expedition 20/21 by NASA, is to test the endurance of the human body in space. Scientists hope to use the information to one day build space colonies on the moon and Mars.

Thirsk, who was born in New Westminster, B.C., reflected on the changes to one of his favourite views from space — British Columbia's mountains — since his last space flight in 1996.

"It's probably just a perception but I have a feeling that the glaciers are melting," he said.

"The snow capping the mountains is less than it was 12 years ago when I flew last time. That saddens me a little bit. Most times when I look out the window I'm in awe but there are some effects of human destruction of the Earth as well."

Flybys over U.S., Canada

NASA said the space station has been conducting flybys over the United States, beginning the first weekend of July. It has been appearing up to three times a day. It will be visible to those living in Ontario and Quebec at about 9:26 p.m. ET on Sunday during another flyby.

NASA said the space shuttle robotic arm grabbed the Japanese Exposed Section cargo carrier from the space station robotic arm on Sunday. Endeavour Cmdr. Mark Polansky and  Payette then used the shuttle arm to place the cargo carrier back into the shuttle payload bay, the agency said.

The Exposed Section was launched with two science experiments and a communication system that were transferred to the Kibo Exposed Facility earlier in the mission.

Also Sunday, astronauts Christopher Cassidy and Marshburn prepared their spacesuits and tools and reviewed procedures for the fifth and final spacewalk on Monday, which is expected to take six and a half hours.

They will rewire a station gyroscope, fix insulation on its Canadian-built robot and install television cameras needed to guide a Japanese cargo vessel into its docking port, Reuters reported.

Endeavour's crew will then begin preparations for their return to Earth and are expected to land near the NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Friday.

With files from The Canadian Press