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Astronauts Begin Space Station Rewiring

15 December 2006

Astronauts from the U.S. space shuttle Discovery have successfully rewired half of the International Space Station to run on its permanent power system. VOA's Sean Maroney reports from Washington with details of the complicated spacewalk and preparations for Saturday's followup.

Crews of the U.S. space shuttle Discovery and the International Space Station are preparing for a third spacewalk Saturday to finish the complex job of rewiring the station.

Officials with the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration say the completion of Saturday's electrical work will bring the permanent power system fully online and prepare the station for the addition of more solar arrays next year.

Flight Director John Curry says the upcoming spacewalk will mirror the complexity of Thursday's outing and bring the same concerns.

"For this particular space walk, this one scared me," he said. " It's one of those that I was worried about all the potential contingencies that could occur. What if the software doesn't come out properly? What if the pump doesn't come out right? What if the power doesn't do what it's supposed to do? And all that stuff worked."

During Thursday's spacewalk, NASA flight controllers had to power down sections of the space station, in order to protect the astronauts from electrical shock.

Half of the station's lights, some exterior cameras and even a smoke detector were turned off. This forced the space agency to rely on the shuttle Discovery's systems for backup.

Curry says this brought its own problems.

"The communications were ratty though because the shuttle is being obscured by the station," he explained, "and so, we had a lot of times where we weren't able to communicate effectively with the crew just because of that feature. We got through it, and it was all worked well. But if there had been an anomaly, it would have been a problem that wouldn't have been optimal."

Mission Specialists Robert Curbeam and Sunita Williams will perform Saturday's spacewalk. Astronaut Christer Fuglesang had joined Curbeam for the first two outings.

A fourth spacewalk may take place if NASA is unable to fully retract an older solar array. A guide wire of the accordian-like array got stuck Wednesday, causing the 35-meter-long panel to billow.

NASA managers say they will try to jiggle the array before resorting to a spacewalk.

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