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Cozy Home With a Million-Dollar View; Needs Work

September 17, 2006|JOHN JOHNSON JR. | Times Staff Writer

Question: What work is now being done on the International Space

Station?

Answer: Astronauts from the space shuttle Atlantis added a 17-ton truss and its attached solar arrays to the space station last week. The 240-foot-long arrays will double the power the station produces. The work is the

first on the station since the shuttle

Columbia was destroyed on reentry

in 2003.

Q: What is the history of space

stations?

A: The first proposal for a manned space station appeared in 1869, in a story by an American novelist who described a "brick moon" orbiting Earth to help ships navigate. The Soviets launched the first station, Salyut 1, in 1971. The U.S. launched Skylab in 1973, and the Soviets sent up the first parts of the Mir space station in 1986.

Q: When was the International Space Station launched and when will it be finished?

A: The first element, the Zarya module, was launched on Nov. 20, 1998. The station is now scheduled for completion in 2010, when the fleet of space shuttles -- the only spacecraft able to carry large construction material -- is retired.

Q: What is the purpose of the International Space Station?

A: The station, a collaboration of 16 nations, is being built to maintain a long-term human presence in space. Its purpose is to serve as a platform for microgravity experiments and as a first step to explorations of outer space. Privately, some NASA officials say the agency has lost enthusiasm for the project as it has focused on the more ambitious goals of manned missions to the moon and Mars.

Q: Why is NASA finishing the station when the space shuttle has proved to be a risky spacecraft?

A: The U.S. government made a commitment to complete the station to its international partners, which have invested heavily in building parts of the station.

Q: How big is it?

A: In its half-built configuration, the station is 240 feet wide, 146 feet long and 90 feet tall. It has about 15,000 cubic feet of living space to support two or three crew members.

Q: What is life like on the station?

A: Compared with life on the old Soviet station Mir, which was so cramped and dirty that mold grew in the walls, it's a four-star hotel. Compared with housing on Earth, it's crowded and noisy, though it does have a million-dollar view. The first station residents arrived on Nov. 2, 2000. Since then, the station has been continuously occupied. The current crew of Pavel Vinogradov, Jeffrey N. Williams and Thomas Reiter is the 13th.

Q: What do astronauts eat at the space station?

A: About 6,000 pounds is required for each crew. Half of it is aimed at the Russian palate, and half is designed for Americans. Renowned Louisiana chef Emeril Lagasse recently sent up some meals. Food warmers are built into a fold-down table in the Russian Zvezda module, which seats three. Salt and pepper are available, in liquid form to prevent the spices from floating away and gumming up the air filtration system.

Q: How do they have enough air to survive months at a time?

A: The primary source of station oxygen in the station is electrolysis, which breaks water down into its constituents of hydrogen and oxygen. Backup supplies of oxygen are stored in pressurized bottles.

Q: How do they keep from getting sick?

A: Illness is a major consideration for space station residents, because they are confined in close quarters for a long time. Space station scientists have designed a number of systems to minimize the danger of illness, including quarantining astronauts before they launch to make sure they are healthy and keeping the humidity down in the space station. Air filters get rid of some bugs. Drinking water is heated to 265 degrees and treated with iodine.

Q: How do the astronauts go to the bathroom?

A: NASA says that's always one of the first questions children ask. The astronauts use specially designed toilets with a suction device.

john.johnson@latimes.com

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