- The Washington Times - Monday, June 9, 2008

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) | Space Shuttle Discovery’s astronauts breezed through their third and final spacewalk Sunday, replacing an empty gas tank at the International Space Station and collecting a sample of dusty debris.

Spacewalkers Michael Fossum and Ronald Garan Jr. wrapped up their work so quickly that Mission Control threw in some extra chores.

The highlight of the 6 1/2-hour spacewalk, for Mr. Garan, was a long ride on the space station’s robotic arm that swung him 80 feet out from the orbiting complex.

While holding the old gas tank, he was attached to the end of the robotic arm and was swung from the right side of the complex to the left. He was about 80 feet above the station during the maneuver. After getting the new tank, he was swung back to the right side, where he installed it.

“It’s a lot different with the planet down there,” Mr. Garan said as he made the trip back with the new tank.

The view from his helmet camera showed the space station with the Earth in the background. The Earth was 210 miles below, and the space station was the equivalent of eight stories away.

NASA called it the windshield-wiper maneuver. It took Mr. Garan over Australia and the South Pacific, over Peru and beyond.

“How’s your ride, Ronnie?” Mr. Fossum asked.

“Great!” Mr. Garan replied.

The two squeezed in some stargazing as Mr. Garan rode on the robot arm. Mr. Fossum recalled how a schoolboy once asked him once whether he could see the stars during a spacewalk. “Indeed, you can,” Mr. Fossum said.

Afterward, Mr. Fossum returned to a big joint that he inspected during Thursday’s spacewalk and gathered some dusty debris on two pieces of tape for analysis back on Earth. The joint turns the solar wings on the left side of the space station toward the sun, like the paddle wheels of a boat.

Engineers will analyze the debris to see whether the material can help them figure out why a similar joint on the right side of the station was clogged with metal shavings.

That clogged joint on the right side of the station has been used only sparingly since last fall, hampering generation of electricity. The joints enable the space station’s solar power arrays to rotate and track the sun.

The left side joint is working normally and engineers are trying to prevent it from developing similar problems.

The spacewalkers performed a few more outdoor chores on Japan’s Kibo lab, which was installed last week, and hooked up a newly repaired camera elsewhere on the space station.

“Well, fellas, you did an awful lot of good work today. You ought to be very proud of yourselves,” shuttle pilot Kenneth Ham called out Sunday from inside.

Discovery and its crew have two more days at the space station, before leaving Wednesday.

On Saturday, Discovery crew members Akihiko Hoshide and Karen Nyberg moved Kibo’s robotic arm for the first time, slightly maneuvering two of its six joints.

Full deployment of the 33-foot arm will be done after Discovery leaves the station next week.

However, it won’t be used for any actual work until after the launch into orbit next year of the lab’s third and final section - a “porch” for exterior experiments - and a second, smaller robotic arm.

Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda spoke to Mr. Hoshide and Discovery commander Mark Kelly and congratulated them on Kibo’s successful installation.

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