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Sunday, November 4, 2007

Emergency operation saves space station

Emergency operation saves space station

Solar panels fully deployed after spacewalkers make repairs

Astronauts successfully unfurled a torn solar power wing at the international space station on Saturday after spacewalker Scott Parazynski cut loose a tangled clump of wires and patched everything up.

His emergency surgery saved the solar energy panel - and the space station.

"This was just a fabulous effort," said Mike Suffredini, the space station's program manager. "Our baby is still beautiful to us."

In the tense buildup to the spacewalk - one of the most difficult and dangerous ever attempted - NASA repeatedly warned that station construction would have to be halted if the wing could not be fixed.

The prospect was so grave that NASA felt it had no choice but to put Parazynski practically right up against the swaying power grid, which was coursing with more than 100 volts of electricity. No other astronaut had ever been so far away from the safe confines of the cabin.

Even before Parazynski made his way back inside, the radio traffic was full of cheers and congratulations.

Shouts of "Yay! All right! Beautiful! Great news!" streamed from the linked shuttle-station complex once the wing was unfurled to its full 115-foot (35-meter) length. Mission Control promptly relayed thanks from NASA's top brass.

"It was an honor," Parazynski replied.

The commander of the docked shuttle Discovery, Pamela Melroy, who supervised the wing repairs, cautioned everyone to hold off on "the victory dance" until Parazynski and his spacewalking partner, Douglas Wheelock, were safely back inside. "Then we can all rejoice," she said.

Tense hours
It took almost an hour for Parazynski to be maneuvered back from the wing, riding on the end of a nearly 90-foot (27.5-meter) robotic arm extension that just barely reached the damage. That's how long it took him to get out there, too.

Parazynski worked on the damage for more than two hours, cutting hinge and guide wires that became snarled and snagged the wing when it was being extended Tuesday. The astronauts had just relocated a massive beam at the space station, and finished extending its first solar power wing, when the second wing got hung up after extending only 90 feet (27.5 meters).

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