Wed, Dec 24, 2008 - Page 6 News List

US, Russian crew work on exterior of space station


US astronaut Michael Fincke and Russian cosmonaut Yury Lonchakov completed a nearly six-hour spacewalk to perform maintenance work and mount experiments on the International Space Station.

Station commander Fincke and Lonchakov installed and retrieved Russian and European probes on the exterior of the space station, more than 320km above the Earth’s surface.

“OK, going out into space again,” Fincke was heard saying in Russian to Lonchakov over the radio as he floated in the frigid vacuum of space. “It’s good to be here again.”

The comments were audible on a live NASA video feed over the Internet during the 5-hour-and-38-minute spacewalk.

In a setback toward the end of the Russian-controlled mission, Fincke and Lonchakov had to remove a European Space Agency experiment they had installed earlier yesterday because of data transmission problems with Russian ground stations.

The video feed showed Fincke and Lonchakov in their Russian-built Orlan space suits leaving the station from a hatch on its Pirs docking compartment.

Fincke, in a red-striped suit, and Lonchakov, in a blue-striped suit, could be seen attaching cables and performing other tasks as the sun periodically rose and set on the cosmic construction site.

Lonchakov referred to Fincke using the Russian affectionate diminutive “Misha” as the two passed tools and cables to each other illuminated by lights attached to their helmets.

Footage from Lonchakov’s helmet-mounted camera showed him attached to the station’s handrails by two bright blue tethers.

Fincke was visible next to a solar array on the station’s Zvezda module that mission control had moved so it would not obstruct an experiment worksite.

“That’s 100 times better,” crackled Fincke’s voice over the radio, as his tethered tool bag bounced around against the formidable backdrop of planet Earth.

Momentary murmurs, hums and giggles from the spacewalkers showed them to be in a relaxed mood.

“Misha, look this way, I’m taking a picture of you,” Lonchakov said.

“You are like paparazzi,” Fincke said.

Russian scientists hope data from the so-called Langmuir probe, installed by Fincke early in the spacewalk, will help explain malfunctions that have repeatedly occurred as a Russian module has attempted to separate from the space station.

The Soyuz module entered the Earth’s atmosphere too steeply in separate descents after detaching from the station in October last year and April this year, leading to faster — and bumpier-than-usual — falls for the crews.

Investigators believe the Soyuz capsule detached too late because a so-called pyrobolt — an exploding connector that keeps the module fixed to the space station — failed to detonate on time.

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