Saturday, November 21, 2009

Spare parts on the move, spacewalk ahead

The International Space Station's robotic arm now has a handle on a large platform of spare parts flown up by Atlantis, as astronauts prepare for a second spacewalk.

The start of the now six-hour spacewalk was pushed back more than an hour, to 9:38 a.m. EST, after false depressurization alarms on the station interrupted astronauts' sleep for a second consecutive night.

It took about 90 minutes to restore systems to normal, so the shuttle astronauts were instructed to sleep an extra half hour. They awoke near 4 a.m. to the Isley Brothers tune "Voyage to Atlantis," played for mission specialist and orthopedic surgeon Bobby Satcher.

The alarms prevented spacewalkers Mike Foreman and Randy Bresnik from completing their pre-spacewalk "campout" in the Quest airlock at a reduced air pressure, a process that helps purge nitrogen from their systems to prevent getting the bends.

They were able to make up the lost time by exercising this morning while wearing masks to breathe pure oxygen, but the spacewalk timeline was shortened by 30 minutes. They're now scheduled to begin the mission's second of three - at 9:38 a.m. EST.

Their primary task will be the deployment of a Payload Attach System, or PAS, where cargo including the large spare part platforms being moved today can be bolted to the station's exterior.

Foreman and Bresnik are getting suited up now. There's still no word yet on the status of Bresnik's wife delivering a baby girl in Houston, which was expected Friday or today.

At 6:32 a.m. today, Atlantis mission specialists Leland Melvin and Booby Satcher pulled a platform holding nearly 14,000 pounds of spare parts from shuttle's payload bay with the orbiter's 50-foot robotic arm, which had grabbed hold of it Friday.

About an hour later, the shuttle's 50-foot arm handed the platform off to the station's 58-foot arm, which will install the part on the right side of the station's structural backbone, opposite another one installed Wednesday.

The false alarms are believed to be related to the recently arrived Russian docking port named Poisk, or "explore."

It docked at the station Nov. 12, four days before Atlantis launched from Kennedy Space Center.

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