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Shuttle 'moving crew' stashes supplies aboard space station

SPACE CENTER, Houston -- Discovery's highly skilled astronauts turned into low-tech haulers Tuesday, toting suitcases stuffed with supplies into the international space station.

The seven-member crew must pack 3,600 pounds of tools, spare parts, computers, water and clothes into the outpost's two modules by Thursday, when Discovery is to depart from the station."It's not real easy," flight director Wayne Hale said. "Every single bag, every single item has got an exact place it's supposed to go, and the crew's been trained to put them in one and only one place.

"It reminds me a lot of packing for going on a long camping trip."

Astronaut Ellen Ochoa is the so-called "loadmaster" of the mission, charged with making sure the equipment gets from the shuttle into the station. She stays inside Discovery, handing off the bulky, soft-sided suitcases to her crewmates, who do the carrying.

Canadian astronaut Julie Payette checks off each bag as it arrives.

By Tuesday afternoon, more than half the equipment had been transferred and stowed. Some bags go behind wall panels; others are attached to the floor and walls of the modules with Velcro strips.

The supplies -- which range from trash bags to laptops -- are for future station visitors, particularly the first permanent crew, due to arrive next March.

Discovery's astronauts delved into their moving chores after repairing several components aboard the Russian-built Zarya control module and the U.S.-built Unity module.

After entering the station late Sunday, the astronauts fixed a broken data communications system aboard Unity, replacing two electronic boxes. The radio link was lost in April, four months after the module was hoisted into orbit.

On Monday, the crew finished replacing flawed battery packs in Zarya and installing foam mufflers over noisy fans and ducts inside the Russian component. Permanent station crews could suffer hearing damage unless the noise is reduced significantly or ear plugs are worn.

The relative humidity inside Zarya rose to 60 percent this morning, partly because the air flow was hampered in one spot by the new foam mufflers. The crew took the sound-insulating material off that section of the duct, removing the kink, and the flow immediately improved.

The hatches will be sealed early Thursday, and Discovery will pull away that evening. The shuttle is due back on Earth on Sunday.