Mon, Mar 23, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Simple error turns into headache for ‘Discovery’ crew


Spacewalking astronauts accidentally inserted a pin upside down and jammed an equipment storage platform at the international space station on Saturday, prompting NASA to assemble a special team to try to resolve the problem.

Steven Swanson and Joseph Acaba finished most of their other chores — loosening bolts on batteries, hooking up an antenna and photographing a pair of radiators. But the pin trouble ate up so much time that they had to skip some work.

NASA immediately put together a team of experts to determine whether there’s any way the crew can pry or hammer the pin loose during a spacewalk today, the third and final of shuttle Discovery’s mission.

The lead spacewalk officer in Mission Control, Glenda Laws-Brown, said since there is no up or down in space, Acaba apparently installed the clamp-like pin upside down — “180 degrees out from where it should have been.”

“Even with it being installed in the opposite location, he just drew a card of bad luck ... If it had been rotated just a little bit more or maybe a little bit less, it might have cleared just fine,” she told reporters on Saturday night.

The equipment storage platform ended up being partially deployed on the space station’s framework. To keep it from flapping around, Swanson tied it down with tethers before heading inside.

Those tethers, however, have a certified lifetime of just three months. As a result, engineers were looking at a more permanent solution in case the platform remains jammed.

Saturday’s six-hour excursion was the second in three days for the crew of the Discovery. On Thursday, Swanson and another astronaut installed the final pair of solar wings at the orbiting outpost. The panels were unfurled on Friday.

The latest spacewalk was just as busy, but lacked the drama associated with the multi-million dollar, high-priority solar wings.

NASA was still basking in that success, telling the astronauts in a wake-up message that the space station “now looks like the artist renderings that we’ve been seeing for years. A day to celebrate!”

As soon as they floated outside, Swanson and Acaba, a former Florida schoolteacher on his first spacewalk, made their way all the way to the end of the space station’s power-grid framework. They loosened bolts holding down batteries that will be replaced on the next shuttle visit in June.

A space station alarm went off as the spacewalkers wrapped up that job. The gyroscopes that were maintaining the position of the station-shuttle complex became overloaded from the astronauts’ work on the end of the truss. Discovery quickly assumed control with its thrusters.

“Nothing to worry about,” Mission Control told the astronauts.

The spacewalkers then moved on to the equipment storage platform, where they encountered all the trouble. Mission Control ordered them to give up and move on to installing a Global Positioning System antenna and photographing a pair of radiators, one of which has a peeling cover.

By then, there was no time to set up any equipment shelving on the opposite side of the station. The platforms are meant to hold large spare parts.

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