Saturday, November 21, 2009

Atlantis spacewalkers install first antennas

In just an hour, Atlantis spacewalkers have installed two antennas outside the European Space Agency's Columbus lab on the International Space Station.

One was a three-pronged HAM radio antenna, the other a five-pronged Automatic Identification System antenna (left) that helps track ships at sea.

Spacewalkers Mike Foreman, who is struggling to hear through his spacesuit's communications cap, and Randy Bresnik are running about 40 minutes ahead of schedule.

The next task is to relocate a device that measures the build-up of electrical charge outside the station as it flies through space at 17,500 mph.

They'll move the Floating Potential Measurement Unit, or FPMU, from the right side to the left side of the station's backbone to get it out of the way of some upcoming robotic work and cargo that will be installed on later missions.

The Columbus antennas were technically called a Grappling Adaptor to On-orbit Railing assembly, or GATOR, prompting a college joke.

"Komrade, the folks at the Citadel will be interested to know that you're working with a gator," mission specialist Bobby Satcher radioed to Bresnik, referring to his call sign and alma mater.

Upon completing the work, Bresnik bid the Columbus lab "Caio."

"I think we left Columbus better than when we came," he said in English, and then directed a comment in Italian to European Space Agency representatives.

"That's impressive," said Satcher.

"We are impressed with Komrade's ability with languages," astronaut Steve Swanson radioed from Mission Control in Houston. "It's most amazing."

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