December 23, 2008

Spacewalkers Install Probe On Space Station

An American and Russian astronaut installed a device that monitors conditions around the orbital outpost during an almost six hour spacewalk outside the International Space Station on Tuesday.

Station commander Michael Finckeand and flight engineer Yury Lonchakov were attempting to repair electrical charges they believe triggered glitches that caused Russian space capsules returning to Earth to land hard and off-course during two consecutive homecomings in October 2007 and April 2008.

Data from the probe will hopefully aid Russian scientists in repairing malfunctions that have repeatedly occurred as the Russian module has attempted to separate from the space station.

In October 2007 and April this year, the Soyuz module entered the Earth's atmosphere too steeply in separate descents after detaching from the station, leading to faster- and bumpier-than-usual falls for the crews.

The complications were suspected to have occurred when a pyrobolt - an exploding connector that keeps the module fixed to the space station - failed to detonate on time.

Both astronauts quickly completed the probe, and then installed two additional science experiments to the outside of the station's module.

But flight controllers could not get any data to the ground when it came time to test new gear. Fincke and Lonchakov discovered the data transmission problem on a small platform outside the station's Zvezda module.

"I think we have done all we can. Why isn't it working?" Lonchakov said after reconnecting the cables several times.

With time running out, flight directors told the men to retrieve the experiment and head back to the airlock.

The International Space Station is nearing completion after more than a decade of construction. Next year, NASA and its partners plan to expand the station's live-aboard crew size from three members to six.


On the Net: