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Astronauts Move Forward With Space Station Maintenance

13 December 2006

The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration says the current shuttle crew's first space walk outside the International Space Station was a huge success. VOA's Sean Maroney reports from Washington on how NASA is beginning to undertake the most complex part of the current mission.

After a "hugely successful" first space walk late Tuesday, the U.S. space shuttle Discovery and International Space Station crews are set to undertake the most complex part of rewiring the station.

The shuttle crew must retract half of the solar array that has been providing temporary power, to make room for the new solar wings to rotate.

Flight Director John Curry says this will usher in a new phase for the space station, as it is prepared for installation of future components.

"The station, for all this time, has been in this infant stage and we need to go to the permanent system so that we can add the Japanese module, the Kibo, and so that we can add Columbus later in '07 and '08," he said.

In Tuesday's nearly-seven-hour space walk, Mission Specialists Bob Curbeam and Christer Fuglesang connected a massive, two-ton attachment that will conduct power, data and coolant for the station.

"Thirteen turns to release the ground strap from P4... The [International Space Station] now 4,000 pounds heavier than it was prior to Discovery's arrival," one astronaut relayed to Mission Control.

They also replaced a malfunctioning camera affixed to the station's exterior. The astronauts ended up finishing their main objectives ahead of schedule and were able to tackle some additional tasks.

During one of the get-ahead procedures, Fuglesang lost a 20-centimeter extension to a pistol-grip power tool. NASA officials say they are not concerned about the loss.

This was Curbeam's fourth space walk and Swedish astronaut Fuglesang's first time outside a spacecraft. Both astronauts will begin the process of reconfiguring and redistributing power on the station with a second outing, Thursday.

NASA managers also have cleared Discovery for re-entry, after determining that minor damage on the shuttle's left wing and belly is of no concern.

The U.S. space agency has been extremely careful about inspecting shuttle heat shields after debris struck Columbia in 2003. The shuttle disintegrated upon re-entry, killing all seven astronauts on board.

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