November 20, 2008

Astronauts Complete Second Spacewalk

Astronauts conducted another spacewalk Thursday, vowing to keep a tighter grip on the remaining bag of tools after sending the first set floating into space on Tuesday.

Valued by NASA at $100,000, the first tool bag drifted out of the reach of Endeavour's lead spacewalker Heidemarie Stefanyshyn Piper while she was busy cleaning grease from a leaking grease gun. Stefanyshyn-Piper said she mistakenly forgot to check that the bag had been properly secured.

With two grease guns lost in space, only two remained for all the repair work, each with a different type of nozzle to reach different parts of the clogged solar wing-rotating joint.

"We're definitely not going to do it again. You're not going to see us lose another bag," lead spacewalker Stefanyshyn-Piper said.

Stefanyshyn-Piper vowed to "double- and triple-check everything from here on out."

"You've got to remember, we are working with humans here and we are prone to human error," said flight director Ginger Kerrick. "So we do the best we can and we learn from our mistakes."

NASA reported the lost tools were among the biggest items ever to be lost during a spacewalk.

Stefanyshyn-Piper and Kimbrough had to share the remaining grease guns and other tools. NASA hoped that would not slow the spacewalkers down too much.

The spacewalk - the second of four planned for shuttle Endeavour's visit - fell on the 10th anniversary of the launch of the first space station piece.

The spacewalkers' primary job 220 miles up was to clean and lubricate the massive joint that controls the solar wings on the right side of the space station, and to replace its bearings.

The remaining pair of grease guns will be tethered to a larger bag so they won't leak on other equipment. A dry wipe will be wrapped around the grease guns to catch any leaks. Finally, Stefanyshyn-Piper will use a prelubricated wipe to clean the metal shavings instead of a grease gun, so she and Kimbrough don't have to share as much.

Meanwhile, much cleaner and less grueling home improvements continued inside the space station. Over the weekend, Endeavour delivered an extra bathroom and kitchen, two more bedrooms and a recycling system for turning urine and sweat into drinking water. The first sip won't happen until next spring; NASA wants to return samples aboard Endeavour and the next visiting shuttle, to make sure the recycled water is safe.

The additions will allow NASA to double the size of the space station crew, from three to six, hopefully by June.


Image Caption: Astronaut Steve Bowen, STS-126 mission specialist, participates in the mission's first session of extravehicular activity (EVA) as construction and maintenance continue on the International Space Station. During the six-hour, 52-minute spacewalk, Bowen and astronaut Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper (out of frame), mission specialist, worked to clean and lubricate part of the station's starboard Solar Alpha Rotary Joints (SARJ) and to remove two of SARJ's 12 trundle bearing assemblies. The spacewalkers also removed a depleted nitrogen tank from a stowage platform on the outside of the complex and moved it into Endeavour's cargo bay. They also moved a flex hose rotary coupler from the shuttle to the station stowage platform, as well as removing some insulation blankets from the common berthing mechanism on the Kibo laboratory. (NASA)


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