Indian American astronaut Sunita "Suni" Williams, the first person of Indian descent to take a walk in space, is getting ready to go on another stroll around her home in the stars next week.
Flight Engineer Williams and International Space Station (ISS) Commander Mike Lopez-Alegria readied the spacesuits they would wear on their spacewalks, with the first one coming up in January 31.
The space duo also used computer-based training to refresh their skills with the Simplified Aid For Extravehicular Activity Rescue (SAFER) jetpack. The SAFER backpack allows spacewalkers to fly themselves back to the station in the event they become untethered and separated from the complex.
Williams joined the spacewalkers club on December 17 when she went out to complete the rewiring of her new home with some help from a veteran spacewalker Robert Curbeam, who had come up with her on space shuttle discovery. In an attempt to retract a bulky solar array, they spent a marathon 7 hour and 31 minutes outside the space station.
Williams, Alegria and Russian Cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin began the week unloading more than 2.5 tons of supplies that were delivered to the station by the ISS Progress 24 cargo craft. Supplies included food, gifts from home, clothing, spare parts, oxygen and water.
The crew took time out from their work on Monday to speak with television host Martha Stewart. They also fielded questions from schools in Ottawa, Canada and another in Winnebago, Nebraska by amateur radio, NASA said.
Meanwhile, at a meeting in Paris on January 23, the heads of the space agencies that have partnered for the ISS - from Canada, Europe, Japan, Russia and the United States - noted significant milestones over the last year, including the return to a three-person crew and the resumption of construction of the orbiting laboratory.
In a joint statement issued after the meeting, the agencies also cited last year's three challenging space shuttle missions with successful spacewalks by American, Russian, Canadian and European astronauts, the continued good performance of the Canadarm2 and its on-orbit operation by a Canadian astronaut, and essential crew and cargo delivery and return by Russian Soyuz and Progress vehicles.
"After 3.5 years of very great difficulty in the space station programme, as we worked hard to return the space shuttle to flight and then return the space station to assembly, the partnership held together," NASA Administrator Michael Griffin told reporters at the European Space Agency headquarters.
Griffin said the partners found a way to keep the space station going, and "now we are going to find a way to finish it, staff it with a permanent crew of six as soon as possible and complete this investment that we have made as a partnership and begin to generate returns from it."
Under current planning, the space station will have a six-person crew in April 2009. The space station completion date will be "prior to the end of 2010, with some margin," Griffin said.
Completing assembly activities paves the way for the planned arrival of Node 2, two new laboratories, and the Canadian two-armed special purpose dexterous manipulator called Dextre within a year. NASA is planning five shuttle launches in 2007.
Node 2, built under contract to Agenzia Spaziale Italiana, the Italian space agency, by Alenia Spazio in Turin and a consortium of European subcontractors, will increase the living and working space inside the station and will allow the European Columbus Laboratory and the Kibo Japanese Experiment Module to be added to the station.
During the meeting, the heads of the space agencies reviewed the status of ISS development, configuration and operations activities across the partnership. They also discussed the US space shuttle, the Russian space vehicles, and the range of vehicles that will soon service the ISS.