Astronauts fix urine-processing unit

Astronauts at the International Space Station (ISS) have fixed a faulty urine processor unit after Nasa extended the Endeavour shuttle mission by 24 hours to work on it, Nasa said on Tuesday.

Extending the mission to 16 days “has paid off for the shuttle and station crews as well as the ground teams”, the agency said.

Crew members ran three successful cycles on the unit, designed to process urine, perspiration and bath water into drinkable water.

The $250-million device, which will now remain on the ISS instead of being brought back to earth, was an essential part of the shuttle mission to double the station’s accommodation capacity.

Once up and running, the unit will be able to recycle the station’s 6,8 tonnes of waste water produced each year, and make it no longer necessary to regularly ferry vast quantities of water to the space station.

Samples of the drinking water produced by the machine will be brought back to earth for analysis.

Also, complex repairs on the station’s exterior, undertaken in four gruelling spacewalks over the last week, appeared to be a success after preliminary tests, said Nasa.

Astronauts cleaned, lubricated and replaced 11 of 12 ball bearings of a rotation device on one of the ISS’s three double solar antenna arrays, or Solar Alpha Rotary Joint, which was stuck.

First data from the tests suggest the equipment is “using less power and moving more freely than before,” said the agency.

The four spacewalks bring to 118 the total number - 745 hours, 29 minutes - used in building the ISS since it was first placed in orbit on November 20 1998.

The orbiting structure is scheduled to be completed by mid-2010.

Endeavour is set to undock from the ISS on Friday morning, with landing at the Kennedy Space Centre in Cape Canaveral, Florida, at about 18.18pm GMT on Sunday.

Endeavour has delivered 14,5 tons of equipment to double the ISS’s crew capacity from three to six.

Apart from the urine-recycling unit, the astronauts installed a freezer and an oven for scientific experiments by Nasa’s Destiny Laboratory Module, two new sleeping quarters, exercise equipment, a second toilet, two new ovens and a refrigerator. - AFP

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