Astronauts get Sunday morning off

March 22, 2009 9:32:43 AM PDT
The astronauts in orbit finally got a break Sunday as NASA scrambled down below to put together a spacewalking repair plan for a jammed equipment platform at the international space station. Mission Control gave the 10 space travelers the morning off, so they could rest up for the third and final spacewalk of shuttle Discovery's mission on Monday.

That spacewalk will have the shuttle astronauts returning to an equipment storage shelf that jammed during Saturday's outdoor excursion. The spacewalkers accidentally inserted a pin upside down and fouled things up.

A hastily assembled team of experts spent Saturday night and much of Sunday trying to figure out how best to deal with the problem. The astronauts, meanwhile, gathered up a pry bar, a couple hammers and other tools to force the pin loose, if ordered to do so.

The storage platform - located on the long space station framework that holds all the solar wings - is meant to secure big spare parts that will be needed once NASA's shuttles stop flying.

Because of all the pin trouble Saturday, the astronauts did not have time to deploy additional shelving on the opposite side of the station. That work was bumped to Monday's spacewalk.

Tethers are holding down the jammed platform so it won't bang around, but they're certified for only three months out in the vacuum of space. Mission Control asked the crew to collect stronger tethers to better secure the platform in case it remains stuck.

Monday's spacewalk will be performed by Joseph Acaba and Richard Arnold II, both former schoolteachers. They were selected as educator-astronauts five years ago.

One item on Sunday afternoon's agenda was a full test of the urine processor that was delivered by Discovery. It's a critical part of the space station's new water-recycling system, which NASA would like to get working before the population at the orbiting outpost doubles to six at the end of May.

Space station commander Mike Fincke offered to give up his free time to coax the system into operation.

"I'm up here to help and serve," he told Mission Control.

Discovery is scheduled to leave the space station on Wednesday.


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