November 19, 2008

Spacewalkers Lose Important Equipment In Space

Flight organizers are revising their plans Wednesday for the rest of the spacewalks intended to happen during space shuttle Endeavour's trip to the International Space Station, following a vital tool bag being lost to space at some point during a repair trip.

The tool bag floated away from astronaut Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper Tuesday as she cleaned and lubed a crusty joint on a wing of some solar panels located on the space station. She and colleague Stephen Bowen were halfway through the course of the first of four spacewalks designed for the mission. The tool bag is one of the biggest things ever lost by a spacewalker.

As Stefanyshyn-Piper cleared up a big spot of grease that oozed from a gun used to oil the joint, the tool case unconnected from a bigger bag and floated off with a pair of grease guns, wipes and a putty knife linked to it.

"What it boils down to is all it takes is one small mistake for a tether not to be hooked up quite correctly or to slip off, and that's what happened here," said lead spacewalk officer John Ray.

Stefanyshyn-Piper and Bowen completed the spacewalk in seven hours by using tools from Bowen's bag. Ray added that Stefanyshyn-Piper showed "real character and great discipline" by finishing the project. She is the first woman to be a lead spacewalker for any shuttle flight.

"Despite my little hiccup, or major hiccup, I think we did a good job out there," Stefanyshyn-Piper said after coming back to the space station.

Flight controllers are thinking about having the two spacewalkers split Bowen's pair of grease guns for the three residual spacewalks on Thursday, Saturday and Monday. They may also use caulking guns intended for fixing the space shuttle. An additional choice is to have a spacewalker clean the joint while the other employs the grease gun to lubricate it.

For about a year, the joint has not been able to mechanically aim the right-side solar wings at the sun for the utmost energy production.

Officials are not concerned that the bag would strike the space station or the docked space shuttle because by late Tuesday it was 2 1/2 miles in the front of the circling complex, stated flight director Ginger Kerrick.

"It is definitely moving away with every orbit," Kerrick said.

In the space station, crew members are ahead of schedule in transporting equipment distributed by Endeavour that shuttle flight planners are thinking about skipping an additional day at the outpost orbiting 220 miles above Earth.

The equipment consists of a recycling system that changes urine into water, an additional bathroom, kitchenette, two bedrooms, an exercise machine and refrigerator allows space station inhabitants to take pleasure in a cold drink. The extra gear lets the space station's crew double to six in the next year.

The water recycling system will be up and running late Wednesday and urine can go through the system later in the week. Samples will be transported back to Earth for security purposes before astronauts can use it.

Images Courtesy NASA/NASA TV


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