- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 14, 2006

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — Two spacewalking astronauts successfully rewired half of the International Space Station yesterday, a job that will allow the orbiting outpost to double the size of its crew and add two labs in the coming years.

Flight controllers on the ground happily reported to the space station that power was flowing through two electrical channels hooked up by astronauts Robert Curbeam and Christer Fuglesang.

“Excellent. Excellent,” said astronaut William Oefelein, who was coordinating the spacewalk from inside the space station.

NASA immediately started powering up systems aboard a large section of the space station; the power had to be turned off while the spacewalkers handled the electrical connections.

The space agency also rushed to get the space station’s ammonia cooling system operating again before the new electrical equipment overheated.

It was the second spacewalk for the astronauts since Space Shuttle Discovery arrived at the lab for a seven-day visit. The five-hour foray ended at 7:41 p.m., a full hour earlier than planned.

The rewiring job involved switching the space station from its old, temporary power source to a pair of solar arrays that were delivered in September. The spacewalkers had to unhook three dozen electrical hoses and reconnect them.

This trip outside the spacecraft brings the total spacewalking time dedicated to assembling the space station to 455 hours and 50 minutes, said NASA spokeswoman Nicole Cloutier-Lemasters.

During a short break, the spacewalkers watched shooting stars and the blaze of the aurora borealis, or northern lights phenomenon, which is caused by solar flares colliding with Earth’s atmosphere. A solar flare earlier this week forced the astronauts to sleep in protective areas of the station and shuttle as a precaution.

“Gosh, they’re beautiful” Mr. Curbeam said.

A third spacewalk set for tomorrow will repeat the rewiring job, but on the opposite side of the station’s U.S. segment.

Before the start of the spacewalk, NASA flight controllers on the ground powered down sections of the station, losing some of the redundancy the space agency likes to have in its systems.

NASA also considered a fourth spacewalk in which astronauts could manually fold up an old solar array that failed to retract fully by remote control Wednesday.

The half-retracted array presents no danger, NASA said. In a worst-case scenario, it could be jettisoned.

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