Spacewalking astronauts tidy up

March 10, 2009 10:20:05 AM PDT
Two space station astronauts ventured out on a spacewalk Tuesday to do a little maintenance work before visitors arrive. The spacewalk 220 miles up took place on the eve of space shuttle Discovery's launch to the orbiting outpost.

American commander Mike Fincke and Yuri Lonchakov, a Russian, were eager to wrap up some chores that they did not get to during a spacewalk just before Christmas. Tuesday's spacewalk was expected to last close to six hours.

Down at NASA's spaceport, meanwhile, everything was falling into place for Wednesday night's planned launch of Discovery, following a month of almost day-by-day delays due to some propulsion system valves. The shuttle and its six-man crew will deliver one last set of solar wings for the international space station.

Forecasters put the odds of good launch weather at 90 percent.

"The weather is looking very good for launch, I'm happy to say, and of course we're going to have that full moon out, so that's going to be really nice, too," shuttle weather officer Kathy Winters said Tuesday.

If Discovery blasts off Wednesday night, it will arrive at the space station on Friday.

Besides the huge framework containing the folded solar wings, Discovery will carry up a new urine processor for the space station's water-recycling system. The processor that went up in November on the last shuttle flight has malfunctioned repeatedly.

During the spacewalk, Lonchakov took out a long knife and trimmed six straps that flapped around whenever an unmanned cargo ship would arrive.

"We're going to do it the old-fashioned way," Fincke said before going out. He promised they would be careful with the sharp blade, which easily could pierce a pressurized spacesuit.

Also on their to-do list: photographing the outside of the 8½-year-old Russian living quarters for any signs of wear and tear, hooking up a science experiment on the hull of the station and straightening out another, and closing a thermal flap on a piece of equipment.

Astronaut Sandra Magnus, the third space station resident, remained inside throughout the spacewalk. She will wrap up a four-month stay once Discovery arrives with her replacement.


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