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Space station unfurls two new solar wings

Tricky procedure done flawlessly

By Marcia Dunn
Associated Press / March 21, 2009
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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - Astronauts successfully unfurled the newly installed solar wings at the international space station yesterday, a nerve-racking procedure that went exceedingly well and brought the orbiting outpost to full power.

To NASA's relief, both wings went out smoothly, one at a time. Nothing hung up, and none of the panels stuck together like they had on previous panels.

The wings stretched more than 240 feet, a glistening golden hue in the sunlight and a dazzling sight for the astronauts and everyone else involved.

"It's just really amazing," said Mike Fincke, the space station's skipper. He said there was "a shout of triumph" aboard the linked station-shuttle complex once the two wings were fully extended.

The work was a highlight of shuttle Discovery's mission. Completed 220 miles above Earth, the new panels are the final pair of electricity-generating wings and should boost the amount of science research at the orbiting outpost.

"Great work, guys," Mission Control told the astronauts.

The long, deliberate procedure began the morning after this last set of solar wings was hooked up to the orbiting complex.

Right on cue, astronaut John Phillips pushed the button that commanded the first wing to unfurl. It slowly stretched out like a folded-up map. When the wing was halfway open, Phillips stopped the motion for nearly an hour so the panels could soak up sunlight and be less likely to stick.

The second wing, which had been boxed up for years, opened just as easily. A slight crinkle was spotted near the bottom, but flattened when the wing was stretched out.

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