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Astronauts Deploy Solar Panels on International Space Station

12 June 2007

Astronauts aboard the U.S. space shuttle Atlantis have finished unfolding solar panels on the newest component of the International Space Station, in a move to increase electrical power to the station.

The crew began extending the solar panels Tuesday after going on a space walk Monday to prepare them. The astronauts had a brief scare when a software problem triggered a false fire alarm in the space station.

On Monday, the U.S. space agency NASA said the shuttle mission will be extended by two days to give astronauts time to repair a problem with the orbiter's heat shielding. The chair of the Atlantis mission management team, John Shannon, said engineers are working to decide the best method to repair a gap between a thermal blanket and the airframe of the shuttle's tail section.

The gap opened during Atlantis's climb to orbit on Friday.

Shannon said engineers decided the gap should be corrected before the shuttle re-enters the Earth's atmosphere for landing.

Damage to heat shield tiles caused the space shuttle Columbia to disintegrate as it returned to Earth four years ago, killing all seven crew members.

Shannon said the repair to Atlantis might require a fourth space walk.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.

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