- The Washington Times - Monday, July 10, 2006

HOUSTON (AP) — Two Space Shuttle Discovery astronauts performed a routine but difficult spacewalk yesterday to fix a crucial piece of the International Space Station that will allow modifications to the massive craft later this year.

Space shuttle astronauts Piers Sellers and Michael Fossum replaced a cable reel to a rail car needed to move large pieces around the giant orbital outpost in a spacewalk dotted with glitches.

The reel, severed accidentally last year by a cable cutter, provides video, data and power to the rail car. The astronauts immobilized the cutter in their first spacewalk Saturday.

NASA managers said fixing the cable reel was vital to space station construction, which will take 15 more shuttle flights.

“Whew, man, do I feel better,” space station flight director Rick LaBrode said after the sojourn. “I tell you, I’ve spent the better part of the last three years of my life putting together this mission, and this particular [spacewalk] was my main concern.

“The obvious reasons are, one, it was extremely complex and challenging and, two, there are just huge implications to the continued station operations. So it was a big deal, and to get it behind us successfully … it’s a great feeling.”

The astronauts were just as relieved.

“The job worked out,” Mr. Sellers said when he finished the difficult task of installing the broken reel in the shuttle’s cargo bay. The reel didn’t fit, so they twisted harder with a wrench until it was snug.

He was further delayed by a loose piece of spacewalking safety equipment that forced him to stay still until Col. Fossum fixed it.

As he was getting back into the International Space Station’s airlock, Mr. Sellers let out a chuckle and said he went through “every contingency I hadn’t thought of.”

Col. Fossum also had a difficult time getting the new reel in place. But eventually everything fit, and the astronauts got all their tasks done. They needed 12 minutes more than planned for their work.

Before fixing the cable reel, Col. Fossum and Mr. Sellers breezed through the first part of their spacewalk, installing a spare external pump compartment on the station’s cooling system.

That first part of the spacewalk went so smoothly that the duo — on their second of three spacewalks this mission — exchanged quips, jokes and even gibes at astronauts back in the shuttle.

The astronauts got welcome news Sunday when NASA managers cleared Discovery’s thermal protective skin as safe for a return to Earth next Monday.

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