- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 19, 2009

CAPE CANAVERAL, FLA. (AP) - Astronauts worked inside and out of the international space station on Thursday to install the last set of solar wings, considered the top job of shuttle Discovery’s mission.

The $300 million framework holding the folded-up wings still had to be hooked up, but getting the final set of wings in place was a significant milestone.

Spacewalking astronauts Steven Swanson and Richard Arnold II helped their colleagues inside the shuttle-space station complex cautiously move the 31,000-pound, 45-foot-long girder into position with a robotic arm.

“Keep coming,” one of the spacewalkers said. “It really looks good to me.”

The actual attachment occurred an hour into the spacewalk.

With that, Swanson and Arnold immediately began securing the girder to the space station with a series of bolts. They also had to hook up lots of connections.

Discovery delivered the new wings earlier this week. It’s the final of solar wings to be installed at the 10-year-old space station and will bring it to full power. It’s also the last major American-made piece of the space station.

Before going back inside, Swanson and Arnold must release and remove the locks and cinches holding down the solar wings. That will allow the 115-foot wings to be unfurled Friday, an even more nerve-racking procedure than the one Thursday about 220 miles above Earth. The last time astronauts tried to unfurl a solar wing in 2007, it snagged on a guide wire and ripped. Emergency repairs were required.

Six solar wings already are in place at the space station. The new ones will bring the number to eight, with four wings on each side.

The space station “is almost symmetric, looking forward to that becoming permanent today,” Mission Control said in a wake-up message to the astronauts.

NASA needs the extra electrical power that the new wings will provide in order to boost the amount of research being conducted at the space station. The pace of science work will pick up once the number of station crew members doubles to six; that’s supposed to happen in two more months.

“Give us some more power,” the space station’s skipper, Mike Fincke, told the spacewalkers as they floated out.

Swanson was making the third spacewalk of his career. Arnold, a former schoolteacher, was on his first.

Thursday’s spacewalk was the first of three planned for Discovery’s space station visit. There should have been four spacewalks, but delays in launching the shuttle cut the mission short.

Discovery needs to leave the space station Wednesday so that a Russian spacecraft can bring up a fresh crew.


On the Net:

NASA: https://spaceflight.nasa.gov

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