Space station toilet installed, but first flush yet to come

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - Space shuttle Atlantis' astronauts installed one of the most critical parts of the new international space station on Thursday: the toilet. But they saved the first flush for the men who will be moving in in November.

''That will be something we'll save for later crews, I'm afraid,'' spaceman Daniel Burbank said with a smile.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Burbank said the space station already feels like a home. He and his six crewmates have been sprucing up the three-room complex and loading it with supplies in preparation for the first full-time crew's arrival in a month and a half.

The only problem was with one of five new batteries, plugged in by the crew this week. Russian flight controllers said that it did not seem to be charging properly.

The astronauts and cosmonauts have until Sunday to finish putting away the three tons of space station supplies carried up by Atlantis and a Russian cargo ship. They also gave the station a four-mile boost Thursday.

''It's a little bit like a home, a little bit like a space station and, for now anyway, a little bit like a construction site,'' Burbank said.

Shuttle commander Terrence Wilcutt said the new living quarters, Zvezda, smelled great when the crew floated inside Tuesday - no mustiness. Although warm at first, the temperature soon fell to about 72 degrees with 50 percent humidity.

''It makes me think of San Diego,'' Wilcutt said.

As far as noise from fans and other equipment, Wilcutt said he disagreed with those in Washington who consider the space station loud and unsafe. In a report last spring, the General Accounting Office said Russia failed to meet NASA standards for acoustics and protection against space junk.

''We're not yelling at each other when we talk from end to end of the module, so I don't think it's very bad,'' Wilcutt said. He added: ''This is as solid and safe as you'll ever get.''

Zvezda was launched in July after more than two years of delay caused primarily by Russia's economic crisis. The next major milestone for Russia is the liftoff of the space station's first residents on Oct. 30 from Kazakstan.

NASA astronaut Bill Shepherd will serve as station commander for four months, assisted by two Russian cosmonauts.

''I think he's going to like it,'' Wilcutt said. ''It's a beautiful place.''


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