July 27, 2009

Endeavour’s Final Spacewalk

Two astronauts have completed their fifth and final spacewalk during the US space shuttle Endeavor's rendezvous with the International Space Station, after installing two cameras in Japan's Kibo Laboratory.

For nearly five hours, Endeavor astronauts Chris Cassidy and Tom Marshburn floated 225 miles above Earth as they installed the TV cameras to the outdoor experiments platform, which will help a Japanese cargo carrier dock with the ISS.

They also completed various maintenance and prevention tasks such as tying down cables, installing handrails, adding a portable foot restraint for future spacewalkers, and replacing batteries to ensure it remains fully operational after the shuttle fleet is retired next year.  Endeavor will undock on Tuesday and land on Friday.

Astronaut David Wolf radioed his thoughts to his crewmates as they headed back into the airlock after the spacewalk. "We're pretty awed by this whole thing"¦you have just done an outstanding effort," he said.

The spacewalkers rearranged electrical hookups for a pair of gyroscopes to provide a separate power supply, and folded down a piece of popped-up insulation on a small Canadian built robot hand at the international space station.

During an 11-day visit, the Endeavour astronauts outfitted Kibo, or "ËœHope', with a platform for telescopes and other science experiments that operate in the open space environment.

Endeavour astronaut Tim Kopra, will remain behind on the station to relieve Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata who has been in orbit for four-and-1/2 months.

On Sunday, Wakata said he was anxiously awaiting a hot bath, cold noodles and fresh sushi once he is home again.

After testing new specially designed space clothes, called "J-ware",  he was happy to mention that they are as effective as advertised.

These advanced underpants were developed by Japan Women's University in Tokyo are odor-free and designed to kill bacteria, absorb water and dry quickly. They are even flame and static resistant.

"In two months, I was wearing these underwear and there was no smell and nobody complained," said Wakata. "I think that new J-ware underwear is very good for myself and my colleagues."

NASA has scheduled seven more construction and re-supplies missions to go before the $100 billion research outpost project being backed by 16 nations is completed.

Until it understands why strips of insulating foam peeled off the Endeavour fuel tank during the July 15 take-off,  NASA will suspend flights of its space shuttle.

If all goes well, NASA hopes to launch its next shuttle in late August.

While the damage caused by the debris does not appear to be serious, it does raise concern for future flights.

NASA has been worried about the impact of the debris in light of the 2003 Columbia disaster in which a piece of foam fell off the tank during launch and damaged the heat shield, which then triggered a series of events that ended with the loss the shuttle and the deaths of seven astronauts as the ship flew through the atmosphere for landing.

The Endeavour crew is scheduled to end their 16-day mission as they land in Florida on Friday.


Image: In this image from NASA TV Astronaut Tom Marshburn is seen during a spacewalk on the international space station, Monday, July 27, 2009.


On The Net: