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Improved Shuttle Readied for Trip to Space Station


NASA officials say they are ready to roll the Space Shuttle Endeavour to the launch pad in Florida in preparation for its scheduled launch to the International Space Station next month. VOA's Stephanie Ho reports from Washington.

Kim Doering, the deputy manager of the Space Shuttle program, told reporters Endeavour will soon be transferred to the launch pad. "We had hoped to roll out this morning, but we did not get everything done before the end of the window, and we are expecting, potentially, some lightning at the Kennedy Space Center this afternoon. We cannot roll out if there is lightning." he said.

The mission is scheduled for an August 7 launch. Doering says since Endeavour was last in space nearly five years ago, technicians had time to check it thoroughly. "We inspect the structure to make sure there is no corrosion. We check all the wiring. We replace things like filters and seals - the soft goods, as we call them," he said.

She said heat tiles and blankets also have been replaced. Shuttle modifications include improvements to the vehicle's impact-detection system that warns if the spacecraft has been hit by a meteorite or debris.

Another important improvement will be a new system that for the first time will allow the International Space Station to transfer power to the shuttle, which will extend the mission by several days.

Deputy Space Station Program Manager Kirk Shireman said having more workers available to construct the station for longer periods of time will speed preparations for increasing the size of the crew on the space station, from three to six, by 2009.

Shireman said NASA technicians are improving station hardware to support a larger crew, including providing adequate oxygen, water, and sleeping facilities. He also pointed to a device for human waste that will be provided by Russian aerospace company, Energia. "It is really a toilet that will support the ISS [International Space Station] going to a six-person crew, so it is a major step for us," he said.

The space station toilet physically resembles those used on Earth, except it has leg restraints and thigh bars to keep astronauts and cosmonauts in place. Urine is deposited into a wastewater tank and can be converted into drinking water. It is set to be delivered to the space station in 2008.

The price tag is $19 million and includes the toilet system, extra equipment, and engineering support.

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