Astronauts install space station truss

December 13, 2006|By Thomas H. Maugh II | Thomas H. Maugh II,LOS ANGELES TIMES

Discovery astronauts completed the first major task of their mission yesterday, installing a 2-ton truss on the International Space Station's main backbone during a six-hour spacewalk.

While veteran Robert Curbeam and rookie spacewalker Christer Fuglesang of Sweden directed the maneuver with hand signals, mission specialists Sunita Williams and Joan Higginbotham used the station's robotic arm to delicately maneuver the $11 million truss into position.

The truss passed within 2 inches of one of the station's solar arrays - much closer than NASA would prefer - but the installation was completed without incident.

The 11-foot truss brings the length of the backbone to 180 feet. It is scheduled to reach 250 feet when the station is completed.

After bolting the truss into place, Curbeam and Fuglesang connected power, data and heater cable connections to the truss. They also moved a handle that was used to grip the truss and replaced a television camera outside the station.

Earlier in the day, NASA engineers in Houston told the Discovery crew that they would not have to perform an extended inspection of the shuttle today.

Sensors on the heat tiles on the underside and wing of the craft had detected "very low" impact readings in several areas, but inspection of pictures of the areas showed no significant abnormalities.

The area will be inspected again next week, after Discovery undocks from the space station.

Engineers were also looking at pictures of a an orange, cellophane-like material that was sticking out of one of Discovery's fuel tank doors. The plastic, used to keep nitrogen in place during launch, usually burns off. Engineers want to make sure it is not blocking the door's seal.

Today, the astronauts plan several activities, the most important of which is the retraction of the port solar array on another space truss to provide room for installation of four new solar panels. Two are on site, and two are to be delivered next year.

The six-year-old solar array must be retracted at least 40 percent to allow the new ones to track the sun properly. If it does not retract properly automatically, the crew might have to make an additional spacewalk to free it.

Thomas H. Maugh II writes for Los Angeles Times.

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