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Space Shuttle Mission Aims to Man Station Forever 

By Brad Liston

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) - If all goes well, Monday will be the last 
day for mankind as a strictly terrestrial species.

Monday man will take up permanent residency in space, a dream for a 
generation of space sojourners and the stuff of science fiction for even 

At the Russian-owned cosmodrome near Baikonur, Kazakhstan, three astronauts 
-- Russians Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalyov and their American commander, 
Bill Shepherd -- are in final preparations for their launch Tuesday to the 
International Space Station (news - web sites), in orbit some 230 miles above 

They will arrive aboard a Soyuz spacecraft, not a U.S. space shuttle as other 
crews have. And unlike previous visitors, they will not leave after a week.

Their stay is supposed to last about four months, longer if NASA (news - web 
sites)'s ambitious launch schedule slips. In the end, they will be swapped 
for another crew -- this one with two Americans and a Russian commander -- 
who will arrive on a space shuttle.

Other ``Expedition Crews'' will follow, rotating one after another until the 
$60 billion station is finished, sometime in 2006 or later. After that, the 
crews will get larger, the stays perhaps longer.

The station is designed to last at least 10 years, but could last 25 or more, 
and then be replaced by a newer, bigger station.

Expeditions to the moon or Mars may be launched from there.

And should the United States, currently with the biggest space program and 
the deepest pockets, become distracted from its leadership position, that 
lead could be picked up by one of its international partners in Europe, 
Japan, Canada or Russia. Or perhaps it will be an emerging economic power -- 
such as China or India, if they join the partnership someday.

At any rate, the goal is to keep some representative of humanity off the 
planet forever -- akin with the first sea organisms making a go of it on land.

For such an epochal event, there has been little fanfare compared to the 
first-in-space flight of Yuri Gagarin in 1961, the lunar landing of 1969 or 
the first shuttle flight in 1981.

No wonder. The Soviet Union made the same claim in 1986 when it sent the 
space station Mir aloft.

Today, the Soviet Union is gone and Mir survives only as a sometimes-occupied 
outpost of interest mostly to film directors, game-show producers and 
would-be space tourists.

``The manning of a space station is not unprecedented,'' admits Jeff Hanley, 
the station's lead flight director at NASA. The United States launched one in 
the 1970s and the Soviet Union launched several.

``The history will unfold here in front of us and we'll see if this is in 
fact permanency or not. But certainly that's our goal,'' Hanley said.

The challenges to permanency begin soon after the Soyuz makes its robotic 
docking Thursday.

Shepherd and his crew will have just enough oxygen to keep them alive two 
days. They will not be able to cook their food or flush the toilet. The air 
conditioner will not work.

They will spend their first week rushing to bring a variety of life-support 
systems on-line, as well as creating a computer network that will help them 
run all the station's systems from laptop computers.

Even then, life will resemble that aboard the claustrophobic Second World War 
submarine depicted in the German film ``Das Boot'' more than the starship 
Enterprise in ''Star Trek.'' The 13-story station is crammed with stowage and 
the passages are narrow. There is only enough electricity to keep two of the 
three modules heated.

Only two of the crew will have broom-closet-sized staterooms, the third will 
bunk where he can find the space.

And in the horribly harsh environment of space, systems are expected to break 

``I fully expect we'll spend much of our time making repairs,'' Shepherd said 
in a recent news conference.

The work will be hard, but the crew does expect to establish routines, 
working about 12 hours a day, six days a week. On Sundays they can relax, 
catch up on personal e-mail, even have a two-way video conference with family.

``I think they're really going to be happy,'' shuttle commander Brian Duffy 
predicted after a visit earlier this month.

And there are compensations for the hard work. As they spend two hours each 
day exercising -- something prescribed to offset the debilitating effects of 
weightlessness -- they can watch the Earth pass beneath them.

It is an unparalleled view, according to Krikalyov, who with more than a year 
in space is the most experienced spacefarer of the group.

While the others will bring books, movies and CDs to amuse themselves during 
off-duty hours, Krikalyov plans to bring nothing.

``Every time you have the opportunity, you just go look outside,'' he said. 
``The book you can read back here
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