HOUSTON -- As Atlantis' astronauts sailed past the halfway point of their visit to Russia's space station yesterday, ground control teams considered a request from Mir's cosmonauts to dispose of potentially contaminated water and other refuse that have accumulated aboard the 11-year-old outpost.
The surprise request was perhaps one of the least glamorous examples of how the Russians, with their orbital space station, and the United States, with its space shuttle, are learning to work together.
"You need to periodically clean up," said James Van Laak, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's deputy manager of Russian space flight programs. "When the shuttle shows up, it's an excuse to have a garage sale and get rid of all the stuff."
Mir has grown to the size of six or seven mobile homes, but its three- to six-person crews have no regular trash pickup.
Atlantis lifted off Thursday with nearly two tons of food, water, clothing, spare parts and research gear for the Russian station.
The shuttle crew plans to return to Earth with more than a ton of station equipment that has outlived its usefulness, including a damaged oxygen generator that triggered a flash fire on Feb. 23, several dozen empty food containers, two broken radio transmitters and even a small acoustic guitar.
Those items had been scheduled for transport before the shuttle launched. The requests for water disposal and to carry off some foam packing material were not.
The water, about 70 gallons, could be jettisoned from Atlantis through a special port, just as the shuttle's wastewater is.
However, Lee Briscoe, NASA's director of mission operations, said engineers want to make sure that possible traces of soot and ethylene glycol in the water would not damage the shuttle.
The shuttle crew is to conclude its five days of docked activities with Mir late tomorrow. The nine-day flight is slated to end early Saturday with a landing at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Pub Date: 5/20/97