- Associated Press - Monday, February 28, 2011

CAPE CANAVERAL, FLA. (AP) - A robotic system shutdown interrupted Monday’s spacewalk outside the International Space Station, leaving an astronaut stuck with an 800-pound pump in his hands for nearly a half-hour.

Good thing it was weightless.

Spacewalker Stephen Bowen was in no danger, but it didn’t sound pleasant.

Mission Control asked if he was comfortable.

“I’m fine as long as it’s not too much longer,” Bowen radioed. “How much longer?”

The problem arose at the two-hour mark when a robotic work station shut down in the orbiting lab. The astronauts operating the robot arm _ with Bowen perched on its end _ rushed to another computer station in another room.

It took a while to get the second station working. For nearly a half-hour, the arm was motionless, with Bowen stuck gripping the big, broken pump that needed to be moved.

He dared not let go.

Bowen was told the trouble would be resolved soon. But it took several more minutes until the robot arm came back to life. Finally, the operation resumed and Bowen carried the 5-feet-by-4-feet pump over to its new location on the exterior of the space station. He got help from fellow spacewalker Alvin Drew in latching the pump down.

Bowen, the lead spacewalker, was a last-minute addition to space shuttle Discovery’s visiting crew. He is filling in for an astronaut who hurt himself in a bicycle crash last month.

Despite the delay relocating the pump _ which failed last summer _ Bowen and Drew managed to complete all their major chores. They hooked up an extension power cable that paved the way for Tuesday’s planned installation of a small storage room at the space station, added a pair of extra rails for the mobile robot arm, and provided extra clearance for a video camera. They even had time for an education experiment.

As the 6 1/2-hour spacewalk wrapped up, Drew twisted the top of a small hand-held bottle, ridding it of air and filling it with the vacuum of space. Bowen captured the event on camera.

NASA calls the Japanese experiment “message in a bottle.”

There’s no message inside, but the bottle is signed by astronauts who have flown in space. It will be returned to Earth aboard Discovery next week and put on display in Japan. It’s an effort by the Japanese Space Agency to increase public interest.

Mission Control couldn’t resist a little Academy Awards humor at the expense of injured astronaut Timothy Kopra, who monitored the action from a flight controller’s seat. In a morning message to the Discovery crew, Mission Control sent up a cartoon showing a spacewalking astronaut _ Bowen _ holding an Oscar statue and giving an acceptance speech.

“… and I would like to thank all of the little people that made this EVA (extravehicular activity) happen,” the cartoon spacewalker said. “And a special shout out to Timmy Kopra. Get well little buddy!”

There won’t be another chance for Kopra, at least during a shuttle flight. This is Discovery’s final voyage, and only two other shuttle trips remain. The fleet will be retired by summer’s end.

In a bit of space trivia, Drew became the world’s 200th spacewalker when he emerged from the 220-mile-high complex. The first was Soviet cosmonaut Alexi Leonov in 1965. He and Bowen will go back out Wednesday for one final spacewalk.

“Stellar job,” astronaut Michael Barratt told the spacewalkers. “Hey Alvin, welcome to the club, those who work in a vacuum.”

Once back home, Discovery will be retired and sent to the Smithsonian Institution. It’s NASA’s longest flying shuttle, circling the planet for nearly a year during the course of 39 missions over 26 years.

Shuttle Endeavour, meanwhile, was moved into NASA’s Vehicle Assembly Building down in Florida as the spacewalk unfolded. It should head to the pad next week for an April 19 launch.



NASA: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/shuttle/main/index.html

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