- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 16, 2007

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — An astronaut’s ripped glove forced an early end to a spacewalk and added to NASA’s headaches yesterday as shuttle managers put off a decision on whether to order risky spacewalk repairs for a deep gouge on Endeavour’s belly.

After nearly a week of agonizing over the gouge, NASA indicated it was close to finishing tests and would decide today whether repairs were needed.

Endeavour’s commander, Scott Kelly, asked Mission Control which way managers were leaning. The reply: “Unfortunately, we have no idea which way the wind is blowing at the moment.” Later, the chairman of the mission management team told reporters that he remained “cautiously optimistic” that repairs would not be needed, based on preliminary test results.

One of the astronauts who would attempt those repairs, Rick Mastracchio, had to cut his latest spacewalk short after he noticed a hole in his left glove.

The quarter-inch-long rip in the thumb penetrated only the two outer layers of the five-layer glove, and he was never in any danger, officials said. Nevertheless, he was ordered back inside early as a precaution, and his spacewalking partner quickly finished what he was doing and followed him in.

NASA’s spacewalk office manager, Steve Doering, said he would not want to proceed with another spacewalk until the glove problem is better understood. He expected to gather more information over the coming day.

This is the second time in three shuttle missions that a glove has been damaged during a spacewalk at the International Space Station. Engineers are uncertain whether sharp station edges are to blame or whether it’s a wear-and-tear problem.

John Shannon, the mission management team’s chairman, said the glove problem would not prevent him from ordering spacewalk repairs for the gouge.

“If we decided we needed to go do this, I would feel very comfortable doing it. We’ve done a lot of spacewalks without any glove problems,” Mr. Shannon said. He added that the repair job would not be anywhere near where Mr. Mastracchio was yesterday.

The unprecedented patching job on Endeavour, if approved, would be performed on the next spacewalk, now set for Saturday, a day later than originally planned to give engineers more time to analyze the situation. That could keep Endeavour and its crew of seven, including teacher-astronaut Barbara Morgan, at the space station at least an extra day.

The 3½-inch-long, 2-inch-wide gouge — the result of a debris strike at liftoff — is in two of the thousands of black tiles that cover Endeavour’s belly and guard against the 2,000-plus-degree temperatures of atmospheric re-entry. Part of the gouge, a narrow 1-inch strip, extends all the way through the tiles, exposing the thin felt fabric that serves as the final thermal barrier to the ship’s aluminum frame.

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