- The Washington Times - Monday, February 11, 2008

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — Space Shuttle Atlantis’ sick German astronaut looked and sounded well yesterday as he helped a crewmate prepare for a spacewalk that should have been his.

In an extremely unusual move, NASA pulled Hans Schlegel off the spacewalk to help install the European lab, Columbus, at the International Space Station, and delayed the work until today, one day later than planned.

Mr. Schlegel, 56, a physicist and former paratrooper who has seven children, was fine for Thursday’s liftoff and became ill in orbit, European Space Agency officials said, adding that the condition was neither life-threatening nor contagious.

Even though he did not look sick, spacewalks are strenuous and an astronaut needs to be in top form, they said.

The hope is that Mr. Schlegel will be well enough to take part in Wednesday’s spacewalk, the second of three planned for Atlantis’ space station visit. He was sidelined Saturday, shortly after the shuttle reached the station.

“We’re all keeping our fingers crossed for him to get better soon,” radioed Europe’s Mission Control near Munich. Mr. Schlegel has only flown once before in space, in 1993.

NASA refused to give out any additional details, citing medical privacy. But it’s common knowledge that a majority of astronauts suffer from space motion sickness during their first few days in orbit.

Flight director Mike Sarafin said that unless he hears otherwise from flight surgeons, Wednesday’s spacewalk will take place as originally planned with Mr. Schlegel. As for today’s outing, none of the work has been altered because of the switch in crew.

Mr. Schlegel huddled yesterday with his replacement, American Stanley Love, and the other spacewalker, American Rex Walheim, as the men got their equipment ready for today’s 6½-hour outing. Mr. Love had trained as a backup for the spacewalk and already was assigned to the mission’s third outing.

NASA scrambled to rearrange the flight plan for the rest of the flight, now 12 days long. Mission managers added an extra day because of the spacewalk delay.

Atlantis’ astronauts took advantage of the extra time to conduct another survey of a thermal blanket on their ship that has a torn corner; the stitching came apart at the seams, and the corner pulled up.

Engineers were analyzing the problem to determine whether the blanket would stand up to the intense heat of re-entry at flight’s end or whether spacewalk repairs might be needed. The blanket was on the right orbital maneuvering system pod, back near the shuttle’s tail.

NASA is vigilant when it comes to the shuttle’s thermal shielding, since Columbia was destroyed in 2003 after a foam strike to its wing during launch.

John Shannon, chairman of the mission management team, said the thermal covering on the wings, nose and belly of Atlantis have no areas of concern and have been cleared for re-entry in just over a week.

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