Lack of Gravity Helps Astronauts Move Tons of Cargo on Space Station

One of a series of images taken by the station crew of space shuttle Atlantis in Earth orbit showing the rear of the ISS cargo bay and the Raffaello multi-purpose logistics module, packed with supplies spare parts for the orbiting outpost, July 2011 
Astronauts who arrived Sunday at the International Space Station on the space shuttle Atlantis have settled down to a busy work schedule. They used a robotic arm on Monday to install a large cargo container, formally called the Raffaello multi-purpose logistics module, on the ISS.

On Earth, we would call it "heavy lifting," but astronauts aboard the ISS are pretty lucky that they are in a microgravity environment.

Now that they have installed the Raffaello module on the station, astronauts can start transferring tons of cargo from Raffaello to the station, and then load up Raffaello with tons of discarded station gear and general trash for return to Earth.

NASA said it will take about 130 man hours to accomplish the task.

The tons of spare parts, equipment, food and other supplies Atlantis delivered to the ISS will help sustain space station operations through 2012.

Space Station Flight Director Jerry Jason told reporters at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, Monday that the astronauts are actually completing their tasks ahead of schedule.

"Both the station and the shuttle crews are doing great, and the ground team is in a very good mood, and spirits are pretty high because we're having such a successful mission," he said.

Astronauts might extend their mission by one day - to a 13-day mission - to give them extra time to load Raffaello.

Jason also said NASA flight controllers are tracking space debris that the U.S. Department of Defense's Strategic Command warned could possibly come near the station and shuttle complex on Tuesday. But he said there is no need to make any moves.

"Everything indicates that the debris is going to be well clear of station. The latest total miss distance was around 18 kilometers, which is well outside our action block," said Jason.

If necessary, the shuttle's thrusters could have maneuvered the complex to avoid the space junk.    

NASA said the debris is part of the Soviet satellite COSMOS 375, which was launched in 1970. It is one of more than half-a-million pieces of Earth-orbiting debris being tracked by agency scientists.

The space shuttle Atlantis, on the very last mission of NASA's soon-to-be-retired space shuttle fleet, docked Sunday with the space station.

The crews of the shuttle and station greeted each other warmly on the ISS, hugging as they floated in microgravity.

Between the Atlantis crew of four astronauts and the space station crew, there currently are 10 people aboard the space station complex.

Astronauts who are part of the space station's crew have a spacewalk planned for Tuesday.

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