Discovery crew docks with international space station

Astronauts to attach construction equipment during spacewalk

May 30, 1999|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- With their flawless docking behind them, Discovery's astronauts went on a spacewalk late last night to spruce up the outside of the new international space station.

Tamara Jernigan and Daniel Barry floated out of the space shuttle around 11 p.m. The seven-story-plus station loomed above them, jutting straight out of Discovery's cargo bay.

"Unbelievable!" Jernigan said as she unlocked the hatch.

Among their duties during the six-hour outing: attaching a pair of 5-foot cranes to the exterior of the station, hanging out three bags of tools for future spacewalkers, installing a glare-reducing shroud over a docking target, and covering an exposed pin.

The spacewalk was expected to last into the wee hours of this morning.

No one was there to greet the seven shuttle astronauts, five men and two women from the United States, Canada and Russia, when they docked with the space station at 12: 24 a.m. EDT yesterday -- the first residents don't move in until March. So Mission Control extended an ultralong-distance welcome.

"It's been six months since anyone came to visit. Welcome aboard," an unidentified engineer radioed from Mission Control in Houston when the shuttle astronauts reached the space station.

"The whole station looks beautiful and we're happy to be visiting and give you some work to do again," answered Barry.

It was the first of dozens of shuttle dockings expected for the space station, launched in two pieces late last year. Mission Control was delighted with the way everything went.

"You've made the first docking with space station look effortless, and you've set the standard for all those who follow," Mission Control told commander Kent Rominger, a Navy pilot who guided Discovery in.

The first order of business involved opening the outermost hatch of the space station and ducking a few feet inside to take air samples and do a little rearranging. The hatch was then closed; it won't be opened again until tonight, when the crew ventures all the way in.

NASA wanted the doors between the two spacecraft sealed in case there was an emergency during the spacewalk.

"We're joined firmly tonight. The crew is working on starting the ingress steps to the international space station," Wayne Hale, the shuttle flight director, said in a news conference three hours after Discovery had parked.

The station flight director, Paul Hill, said the six-hour spacewalk will kick off six hectic days of cargo transfers and maintenance and repair work on power and communication systems.

The astronauts will replace 18 batteries in an electrical system inside the Russian control module. They will repair or replace a radio system in the American node, which provides several ports for space station systems to be added in the next five years.

Discovery will remain docked to the 77-foot, 70,000-pound space station until Thursday night. Between now and then, the astronauts will lug nearly 4,000 pounds of gear into the station.

Pub Date: 5/30/99

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