As shuttle’s days wane, astronauts take a walk
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A pair of visiting shuttle astronauts ventured out on a spacewalk at the International Space Station yesterday, tackling a hodgepodge of maintenance jobs and an experiment to capture the invisible vacuum of space.
Stephen Bowen and then Alvin Drew floated out the hatch early and went straight to work with an extension power cable.
Bowen, a native of Cohasset, Mass., is the lead spacewalker. He was a last-minute addition to Discovery’s last crew, filling in for an astronaut who hurt himself in a bicycle crash last month.
By joining the flight, Bowen became the first astronaut to fly back-to-back shuttle missions. In addition to the Atlantis mission in May, Bowen was aboard the Endeavour in 2008. In all, the submarine officer has been on five spacewalks.
Yesterday’s was interrupted at the two-hour mark when a robotic work station shut down. The astronauts operating the robot arm — with Bowen perched on its end — rushed to another computer station in another room. For nearly a half-hour, the station arm was motionless, with Bowen stuck gripping a big, broken pump that needed to be moved. He dared not let go.
Mission Control asked if he was comfortable. “I’m fine as long as it’s not too much longer,’’ Bowen radioed.
It took several more minutes for the robot arm to come back to life. Bowen then carried the 780-pound pump to its new location on the exterior of the space station. He got help from Drew in latching it down.
Discovery is making its final voyage; two other shuttle trips remain. The fleet will be retired by summer’s end.
This was the first of two spacewalks planned for Discovery’s farewell flight.
The biggest job involved the relocation of the failed ammonia coolant pump. It was replaced last summer in a series of urgent spacewalks. But the space station residents ran out of time before they could secure the broken device in its proper place.
Bowen and Drew also installed an extension power cable that paved the way for today’s planned installation of a small storage room at the space station.
Drew became the world’s 200th spacewalker when he emerged from the 220-mile-high complex. The first was Soviet cosmonaut Alexi Leonov in 1965.
Bowen and Drew go back out tomorrow for one last spacewalk.
Discovery will be retired and sent to the Smithsonian Institution. It is NASA’s longest flying shuttle, circling the planet for 39 missions over 26 years.
As the 6 1/2-hour spacewalk wrapped up, Drew twisted the top of a small bottle, ridding it of air and filling it with the vacuum of space. NASA calls the Japanese experiment “message in a bottle.’’
There’s no message, but the bottle is signed by astronauts who have flown in space. It will be returned to Earth and displayed in Japan. It’s an effort by the Japanese Space Agency to increase public interest.