CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) – Life on board the international space station is busier and more crowded now that it's a full house. For the first time ever, the space station is accommodating a permanent crew of six, the way it was intended when the first piece flew a decade ago. The population at the orbiting outpost doubled Friday when three new residents moved in.
"I come from a large family and I'm used to a lot of activity and busyness and a lot of laughter, and we certainly have that now with these guys coming," U.S. astronaut Michael Barratt said Monday. He has five children. "Up here, the station is very large and six people still don't quite fill it," added Barratt, who's been on board since the end of March. "It's a very comfortable venue for six people to work."
When the population explodes to 13 with the arrival of space shuttle Endeavour and its crew of seven in another few weeks, "it will be a challenge," Barratt noted at a news conference from space.
One of the newcomers, Canadian astronaut Bob Thirsk, said he's learned a lot the past few days and become more efficient in his work. For the space station's Russian commander, though, "it's a little bit like herding cats" when it comes to helping the new guys adjust, Thirsk said. "Believe me, this is a surreal world here," he told reporters. "I sometimes feel like I'm in the middle of a Salvador Dali painting here.
"My greatest fear? Astronauts always have a fear of injury or death, but our greatest fear is of making a mistake. So I just hope I can get through these six months without making any serious mistakes."
Most of the space station residents, like Barratt and Thirsk who flew up on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, will spend six months on board. Others, like Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata, will come and go via NASA's shuttles and therefore have shorter stints.
The current crew includes two Russians, one American, one Canadian, one Japanese and one Belgian, representing all of the major space station partners up there for the first time.
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