Huge chest of drawers hoisted aboard space station

Aug 31, 2009 By MARCIA DUNN , AP Aerospace Writer
An image taken from NASA video shows crew members of the Space shuttle Discovery and the international space station as they greet one another with hugs and handshakes after the space shuttle docked with the space station Sunday night, Aug. 30, 2009. (AP Photo/NASA Television)

(AP) -- The astronauts aboard the linked shuttle and station moved a giant chest of drawers from one spacecraft to the other Monday, and hitched it to the orbiting outpost.

The Italian-built chest - nicknamed Leonardo, as in Leonardo da Vinci - is filled with nearly 8 tons of equipment and science experiments for the space station and its six residents, including a treadmill named after Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert. Much of the gear is stored in portable racks.

Leonardo, which was hoisted on the end of a hefty robot arm, will remain secured to the space station for the next week. The astronauts will remove the cylindrical vessel - 21 feet long and 15 feet in diameter - and place it back on space shuttle Discovery for return to Earth. By that time, it will be loaded with trash and unneeded items.

NASA's brand new $5 million treadmill - officially called the Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill, or COLBERT for short - is in pieces and will need to be assembled after Discovery leaves.

The TV comedian ended up with an exercise machine named in his honor after he won an online vote for christening rights to a space station room. Unwilling to go with Colbert for the yet-to-be-launched room, NASA opted for Tranquility to commemorate the Apollo 11 moon landing 40 years ago this summer. The treadmill was a consolation prize.

Shuttle astronaut Jose Hernandez will oversee Leonardo's unloading operation. He is filing regular Twitter updates from orbit, the first astronaut to do so in two languages, English and Spanish.

"Met our 6 neighbors & they seem nice!" Hernandez wrote.

Besides his bilingual tweets, Hernandez is taking part in several Spanish-language interviews during the mission. "I'm just happy to be able to share my experiences," said Hernandez, a Mexican-American who is the son of migrant workers. He grew up working the fields in California alongside his parents, two brothers and sister.

Next up for the 13 space travelers - seven on the shuttle and six on the station - is the first spacewalk of their joint mission.

The space station's newest inhabitant, Nicole Stott, will venture out Tuesday evening with Danny Olivas to remove a depleted ammonia tank. A fresh tank will be installed as part of the space station cooling system during spacewalk No. 2 on Thursday night. In all, three spacewalks are planned.

Stott carried over six mice in an enclosed container Monday evening. The mice are part of a bone loss study and will return to Earth with her in November, aboard shuttle Atlantis.

Meanwhile, the chairman of NASA's mission management team, LeRoy Cain, delivered some good news Monday: Discovery's thermal shielding looks to be in good shape and should soon be cleared for re-entry, currently scheduled for Sept. 10.

Flight controllers, meanwhile, are looking at fuel-efficient ways to move the shuttle-station complex over the coming week. Discovery's tiny steering jets are unusable because of a leak.

©2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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