November 4, 2005

Space Station Crew Prepares for Spacewalk

By Irene Klotz

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) - NASA next week will direct its first spacewalk in 2-1/2 years by International Space Station crewmembers, space agency officials said on Thursday.

The spacewalk set for Monday will be the first under NASA's full control since a glitch in the cooling system contaminated U.S. spacesuits and the U.S. airlock aboard the orbital outpost.

Crewmembers fixed the airlock, but until a U.S. space shuttle could deliver new U.S. spacesuits, spacewalkers had to use Russian suits, which can only be serviced in the Russian airlock. Moscow oversees spacewalks from its airlock.

New U.S. spacesuits arrived during July's mission to the station by the shuttle Discovery, the only shuttle flight since Columbia burst apart over Texas in 2003.

Station commander Bill McArthur and flight engineer Valery Tokarev have two main tasks during their planned 5-1/2-hour spacewalk.

"The tasks themselves are not overly challenging," said lead spacewalk developer Anna Jarvis on a teleconference call with reporters on Thursday. What will be difficult is getting out of the airlock on time and staying on schedule.

Crewmembers will attach a television camera to a pole and carry it 60 feet to the end of the station's port truss for installation. NASA needs the camera to guide a future shuttle crew.

McArthur and Tokarev then plan to remove a deteriorating instrument that measures electric fields around the station.

If time allows, they also will replace two failed electrical components on other parts of the station.

The spacewalk details were announced as new NASA administrator Mike Griffin told the U.S. Congress that NASA faced a budget shortfall of up to $5 billion as it attempts to operate the shuttle, complete the space station and build a new spacecraft and launcher for missions to the moon and Mars.

Griffin said the agency had cut research projects aboard the space station as a result.