- Associated Press - Monday, May 18, 2009

HOUSTON — Specially designed tools couldn’t dislodge a balky bolt interfering with repairs Sunday at the Hubble Space Telescope, so spacewalkers took an approach familiar to people puttering around down on Earth - use brute force.

And it worked. But it set spacewalkers so far behind that they couldn’t get all their tasks done.

Space Shuttle Atlantis astronaut Michael Massimino couldn’t remove one bolt attaching a hand rail to the outside of a scientific instrument he needed to fix. The rail had to be removed, or at least bent out of the way.

That was only the beginning of a hard-luck day. The balky bolt and other tiny problems put spacewalkers so far behind schedule that they had to abandon the second part of their spacewalk: replacing some worn insulation on the telescope.

When several tries with different expensive tools couldn’t remove the bolt, Mission Control in Houston told Mr. Massimino to go for the less precise yank.

Astronauts were careful to tape pieces so they wouldn’t fly away and become potential missiles.

“This is like tying branches together in Boy Scouts,” fellow spacewalker Michael Good said.

And while Atlantis was out of video contact 350 miles above Earth, controllers in Houston could only listen as Mr. Massimino took a breath and pulled.

After a second of silence, Mr. Massimino calmly said: “disposal bag, please.”

After nearly two hours of work on the stubborn bolt, astronauts went back to the plan to bring a science instrument back from the dead. They took a breather, then began working on the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph, disabled by a power failure five years ago.

Three of the four Hubble spacewalks so far this mission have been delayed by minor problems, like stubborn bolts and objects that wouldn’t fit. A fifth and final spacewalk is set for Monday.

Mr. Massimino then went on to start removing 111 tinier screws - the work NASA worried more about before the spacewalk began.

Mr. Massimino’s run of bad luck only continued. While trying to install a special plate to capture those tiny screws, a tool’s battery died. It took more than half an hour for him to go back to the shuttle, swap out batteries and recharge his oxygen supply.

Then he finally removed the screws one at a time, counting them as they came out.

By the time Mr. Massimino replaced the internal electronics power supply card in the spectrograph, it was just about the originally scheduled time for the end of the spacewalk. And more than 90 minutes of cleanup and close-out work remained.

So spacewalk coordinators on the ground decided that the second part of Sunday’s task, the insulation, had to be put off until Monday, if possible.

Not all of the work may get done Monday, but at least part will be attempted, Mission Control said.

“We’re very proud of you,” Atlantis astronaut John Grunsfeld told the weary spacewalkers.

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