Saturday, September 05, 2009

Live in Orbit: Mission's final spacewalk complete

The third and final spacewalk of shuttle Discovery's mission is in the books.

Inside the International Space Station's Quest airlock, Danny Olivas and Fuglesang have plugged back into station power and communications lines, officially ending a spacewalk that lasted one minute past seven hours.

That brings the mission's total spacewalking time to 20 hours and 15 minutes.

All three spacewalks achieved their major goals, though today's ended with a bit of frustration.

During the first spacewalk, on Tuesday, Olivas and station flight director Nicole Stott removed an old ammonia coolant tank and recovered two sets of experiments from the Columbus lab.

Two days later, Olivas and Fuglesang paired up for the first time to install a new ammonia tank and return the old one to Discovery's payload bay.

Today, Olivas and Fuglesang deployed an attachment mechanism for a spare parts carrier, replaced a circuit breaker and a box holding gyroscope sensors, installed two Global Positioning Systems antennas and routed a pair of 60-foot avionics cables for a future module.

The spacewalk was running well ahead of schedule until one of the cables couldn't be plugged in to its connecting port on the station's truss.

Then Fuglesang's helmet camera came loose, forcing him to head back inside.

"You guys did an awesome job, thank you so much for your help," Olivas radioed to ground controllers from the airlock.

"It was a super effort by everybody," someone replied from NASA's Mission Control Center in Houston.

It was the 133rd spacewalk supporting station assembly and maintenance, and the fifth for Olivas and Fuglesang. Here is the total spacewalking time each has accumulated:

++ Olivas: 34 hours, 28 minutes.
++ Fuglesang: 31 hours, 54 minutes.
++ Discovery's STS-128 mission: 20 hours, 15 minutes.
++ Space station assembly/maintenance: 830 hours, 51 minutes.

NASA has scheduled a 1 a.m. news briefing to recap today's action and update the rest of the mission. Watch it live by clicking on the NASA TV still image on the right side of the page.

Live in Orbit: Loose helmet cam ends spacewalk

A helmet camera pack attached to Discovery spacewalker Christer Fuglesang's spacesuit came loose toward the end of today's spacewalk, forcing him to return to the International Space Station's Quest airlock.

Danny Olivas, Fuglesang's partner, removed the camera pack that was flapping from the top of his helmet, to make sure it didn't get knocked off and lost.

The picture above shows the view from Olivas' helmet cam of Fuglesang's pack, still plugged in but loose and upside down to the left of his visored helmet. At left, Olivas is holding the pack.

Fuglesang returned to the airlock holding the tethered pack as a sunset approached, instructed to use its light as a flashlight if necessary.

He speculated that he somehow "unluckily unlocked" the pack during work uncoiling a 60-foot cable from a truss segment to the Unity node.

The spacewalk was wrapping up anyway, with one setback.

Olivas and Fuglesang tried unsuccessfully to plug in one of the two long cables they routed, a primary power cable that will eventually connect to the Tranquility module.

Olivas took over the task of covering the cable's connector with a protective sleeve.

The picture at left shows the camera and light assembly attached to a helmet on the ground.

Click here for more background on spacesuits.

Live in Orbit: Key spacewalk tasks accomplished

Two Discovery astronauts have completed the major tasks of their spacewalk, the mission's last, and are moving on to odd jobs with some remaining time.

Danny Olivas and Christer Fulgesang routed a pair of 60-foot long power and data cables that will be used by the U.S. Tranquility module when it is added to the station in February.

Dealing with the stiff, 1.5- to 2-inch diameter cables in zero gravity is a challenge, said Zeb Scoville, the mission's lead spacewalk officer, before the mission.

"They can get to be a bit like a bundle of snakes," he said in a news conference. "They're really stiff. If you bend them, they'll hold that shape pretty well."

Despite that challenge, Olivas and Fuglesang arranged the cables ahead of schedule, for the most part. Working between Starboard 0 truss segment and Unity node, they uncoiled small sections and secured them with copper wire ties.

Scoville said Friday that because NASA had not actually settled which Unity port would house Tranquility (it was expected to be the port side), the cables wouldn't be routed all the way to preserve flexibility for future missions.

Olivas and Fuglesang did struggle to connect the primary power cable to the S0 truss. If it couldn't be mated properly, they planned to place a protective sleave over the connector and leave it for a later mission.

Olivas began working on another "get-ahead" task preparing for Tranquility, removing a slide wire on Unity.

The wire helps spacewalkers move around outside the station, but will interfere with the new module and is no longer needed in that position.

Mission controllers cautioned that the wire is damaged and could present a sharp edge.

Earlier, the team deployed a spare parts holder, replaced a failed circuit breaker and gyroscope rate assembly and installed two Global Positioning System antennas.

The spacewalk started at 4:39 p.m. and is scheduled to last six-and-a-half hours.

Live in Orbit: Failed gyro sensors replaced

Discovery spacewalkers Danny Olivas and Christer Fuglesang have replaced a device that helps the International Space Station determine its position relative to Earth so gyroscopes can keep the outpost flying in the right orientation.

The veteran astronauts, from the U.S. and Sweden, respectively, climbed into latticework at the mid-point of the station's structural backbone to access the Rate Gyro Assembly.

They released four bolts and removed two electrical connectors to remove the box that failed several months ago, then installed the new one.

A little more than two hours into the mission's third and final spacewalk, the team is working about 40 minutes ahead of schedule.

Fuglesang is getting to work replacing a failed circuit breaker in a nearby location on the "Starboard Zero" truss segment.

Other upcoming work includes installing two Global Positioning System antennas and routing 60-foot long avionics cables that will be connected to the Tranquility node - the last large American addition to the station - next year.

Live in Orbit: Platform for spare parts deployed

Two spacewalkers have completed the first and highest priority task of their day working on the International Space Station.

Mission specialists Danny Olivas and Christer Fuglesang deployed a platform that will hold a spare parts carrier that is needed by the next shuttle mission, planned in November.

The job involved unbolting structural braces on a section of the station's central truss, on the right side. Crews inside the station were asked not to do any exercise that would cause excessive vibration while the work proceeded.

The platform (tiny diagram at left) was deployed and locked into place, similar to the way an airline tray table would swing down, a NASA TV commentator said.

The mechanism, and another on the left side of the truss, will hold carriers containing large spare parts.

The parts will be critical to keeping the station running after the space shuttle retires, when it will become more difficult to ship parts up and down for repair or replacement.

The next task, at the center of the station's truss, is to replace a box holding gyroscope sensors that help keep the station pointing at the proper angles as it orbits.

Today's spacewalk - the third and last of shuttle Discovery's mission - began at 4:39 p.m. and is running about 30 minutes ahead of schedule.

Live in Orbit: Final Discovery Spacewalk Under Way

Discovery spacewalkers Danny Olivas and Christer Fuglesang have switched their spacesuits to internal battery power and are ready to step outside the Quest airlock to begin another day of work on the International Space Station.

They'll tackle an assortment of jobs during a planned six-and-a-half hour excursion that will equip the station to store more spare parts, prepare for the addition of a final large American module and repair a unit that helps gyroscopes point the station properly.

The spacewalk officially began at 4:39 p.m. EDT, 10 minutes ahead of schedule.

This is the third and last spacewalk planned during shuttle Discovery's 13-day mission, the fifth ever for Olivas and Fuglesang. It is the 133rd dedicated to building and servicing the space station, and the 14th toward that effort this year.

Olivas is wearing a a spacesuit with solid red stripes on the legs and responding to the call sign "EV-1." His helmet camera will show No. 18 in the bottom right corner.

Fuglesang is wearing a suit without stripes and responding to "EV-2." His helmet camera will show No. 16 in the bottom right corner.

Mission specialist Pat Forrester will once again be choreographing the spacewalk from Discovery's aft flight deck.

You can watch the entire spacewalk and other mission activity live here - just click on the NASA TV still image on the right of this page to launch a viewer.

The spacewalkers' first task will be to deploy a mechanism on which large carriers holding spare parts will be stowed.

The next shuttle mission, labeled STS-129 and targeted for launch in November, will deliver two of those large carriers.

One is to be placed on the Starboard 3 segment of the station's football field-length central truss, or backbone, and the other on the Port 3 truss.

Deployment of the so-called Payload Attachment System, or PAS, on the starboard segment had been planned during Endeavour's STS-127 mission in July but couldn't be completed.

Live In Orbit: Spacewalk On Tap After Near-Miss

Spacewalking astronauts will venture outside the International Space Station Saturday on an excursion that will come a day after space junk buzzed the orbiting outpost.

Shuttle mission specialists Danny Olivas and Christer Fugelsang plan to prep the complex for the arrival next year of the U.S. Tranquility module -- the last large American station section.

The spacewalkers also aim to swing a spare parts pallet into position, swap out a faulty circuit breaker and replace a gyroscopic assembly that keeps the station positioned properly in space.

It will be the third and final outing during Discovery's station visit.

"We have two under our belts," said Olivas. "But the two behind us doesn't mean that third one isn't going to be as much or even more of a challenge. This late in the mission, we just have to keep ourselves focused."

Discovery astronauts are in the midst of a 13-day round trip to the station.

The crew has hauled 90 percent of an 8.5-ton load from a shuttle-launched Italian moving van into the station. They also are 60 percent done with packing trash and surplus gear for the trip home.

The spacewalk today will be the 133rd performed in the assembly and maintenance of the station, a daunting job that began when the first two building blocks were linked in low Earth orbit in late 1998.

The outing will come a day after a large piece of debris from a European Ariane rocket zoomed within less than a mile of the station.

U.S. Space Command tracks space debris and provided data that showed no evasive action would be required by the joined shuttle-station complex.

"We calculated a probability of collision of zero. So we knew we were okay," NASA flight director Ron Spencer said. "We were very confident in our tracking of it, so we knew it was going to be a near-miss without a threat of collision."

Here's a look at the upcoming day in space:

++11:59 a.m.: Shuttle crew wakes up.

++12:34 p.m.: Spacewalk preps pick up.

++4:34 p.m.: Cargo transfer between shuttle and station.

++4:49 p.m.: Spacewalk No. 3 begins.

++11:19 p.m.: Spacewalk No. 3 ends.

++3:29 a.m. Sunday: Shuttle crew sleeps.

Discovery is scheduled to land at Kennedy Space Center next Thursday.