Tue, Feb 12, 2008 - Page 7 News List

Crew illness forces switch in scheduled shuttle spacewalk

AP , HOUSTON, TEXAS

Space shuttle Atlantis' astronauts geared up for a spacewalk yesterday that NASA said would remain unchanged despite a last-minute switch in crew for medical reasons.

"The only difference is who's going out the hatch," flight director Mike Sarafin said.

The primary purpose of the spacewalk is to help install the European lab, Columbus, that Atlantis ferried to the international space station.

German astronaut Hans Schlegel was initially scheduled to carry out the spacewalk with American Rex Walheim, but was pulled from the job on Saturday because of an undisclosed illness.

Schlegel looked and sounded well on Sunday and was expected to take part in the second spacewalk of the mission tomorrow.

For yesterday's outing, however, American Stanley Love was taking his place.

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.

They said that the condition was neither life-threatening nor contagious.

NASA refused to give out any additional details, citing medical privacy.

But it is common knowledge that a majority of astronauts suffer from space motion sickness during their first few days in orbit.

With their flight now 12 days long because of the spacewalk delay, Atlantis' astronauts conducted 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 be able to withstand the intense heat during reentry at flight's end, or whether spacewalk repairs might be needed.

The blanket is located 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, ever since Columbia was destroyed in 2003 following a foam strike to its wing during launch.

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

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