CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Astronauts hitched a giant chest of drawers to the international space station on Monday that contained a brand new freezer, sleeping compartment and treadmill bearing a TV comedian’s name.
The Italian-built chest — nicknamed Leonardo, as in Leonardo da Vinci — was moved from the space shuttle Discovery via a hefty robot arm and hoisted onto the space station.
It’s loaded with nearly 8 tons of equipment and science experiments for the orbiting outpost and its six residents. Much of the gear is stored in portable racks; the bedroom is the size of a phone booth.
The astronauts will start unloading everything late Tuesday afternoon as the first spacewalk of the mission gets under way. With 13 people on the linked shuttle and station, multiple jobs can be carried out at the same time.
NASA’s new $5 million treadmill will be one of the first items to come out of Leonardo. It’s officially called the Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill, or COLBERT for short.
Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert 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. It’s in pieces and will be assembled sometime in September after Discovery leaves.
Leonardo 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 aboard Discovery for return to Earth. By that time, it will be loaded with trash and unneeded items.
Shuttle astronaut Jose Hernandez will oversee Leonardo’s unloading and reloading 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.
The newest of the space station’s six inhabitants, 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, flight director Ron Spencer delivered some good news Monday night: Discovery’s thermal shielding looks to be free of launch damage and is cleared for re-entry on Sept. 10.
One final survey will be conducted after Discovery undocks, however, to seek out any micrometeorite damage that might occur while the shuttle and station are together.
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.
© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.