March 10, 2009

US, Russian Astronauts Conduct Spacewalk

A Russian cosmonaut and his U.S. counterpart onboard the International Space Station (ISS) conducted a spacewalk Tuesday to perform some routine maintenance work before this week's scheduled arrival of the space shuttle Discovery.

American commander Mike Fincke and Cosmonaut Yury Lonchakov were scheduled to make repairs, take pictures and install an experiment during the six-hour spacewalk, according to a mission official.

The orbiting outpost's laboratory hatch opened at 1622 GMT, an AFP report quoted Russian mission control spokeswoman Valery Lyndin as saying.

"We have interesting objectives today," the report quoted Lonchakov as saying ahead of the spacewalk.

"We have to install European equipment, we have repair work and we must take photos of different parts of the ISS," Lonchakov said.

Tuesday's spacewalk is his second since arriving at the ISS with Fincke in October. The third space station resident, astronaut Sandra Magnus, remained inside throughout the spacewalk.   She will conclude a four-month stay once Discovery arrives with her replacement.

During the spacewalk, Lonchakov used a long knife to trim six straps that would thrash about whenever unmanned cargo ships would arrive.

"We're going to do it the old-fashioned way," Fincke told the AP prior to the spacewalk, promising he would be cautious using the sharp blade, which could easily puncture his pressurized spacesuit.

The astronauts were scheduled to obtain photographs of the outside of the 8 1/2-year-old Russian living quarters to look for signs of wear and tear.  They were also set to close one of the space station's thermal flaps and install a European science experiment on the hull that will monitor how certain organic molecules react to solar radiation.  The pair had installed Europe's Expose-R module during their last spacewalk just before Christmas, but that mission was cut short due to a power shortage.  

Meanwhile, things are falling into place at NASA's spaceport for Wednesday night's scheduled launch of space shuttle Discovery, following a month delays due to issues with propulsion system valves.

The shuttle and its six-man crew will deliver the final set of solar wings for the ISS.

Weather forecasters put the odds of good launch at 90 percent.

"The weather is looking very good for launch, I'm happy to say, and of course we're going to have that full moon out, so that's going to be really nice, too," shuttle weather officer Kathy Winters said Tuesday, according to an Associated Press report.

If Discovery launches Wednesday night, it will arrive at the ISS on Friday.

In addition to the vast framework containing the folded solar wings, Discovery will deliver a new urine processor for the space station's water-recycling system.


Image Caption: Flight Engineer Yury Lonchakov (left) and Commander Mike Fincke conduct a spacewalk. Credit: NASA TV


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