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Friday, February 15, 2008

Astronauts To Attach Science Experiments In Final Spacewalk

The astronauts aboard the linked shuttle-station complex prepared Friday for the last spacewalk of their joint mission, an outing to attach science experiments to the outside of the new Columbus lab.

Station commander Peggy Whitson helped spacewalkers Rex Walheim and Stanley Love don their spacesuits, moving so quickly the duo was left with a half-hour break before they could start the final tasks to get them out the door. Whitson suggested they take a nap.

"There's no napping in spaceflight!" Walheim quipped.

Walheim and Love were scheduled to spend about 6 1/2 hours installing the experiments, retrieving an old space station gyroscope and, if there's time, examining a tiny chip on a handrail near the spacewalk hatch and a jammed solar rotary joint.

The astronauts awoke Friday to a song by German Drafi Deutscher whose title translates to "Marble Breaks and Iron Bends." German astronaut Hans Schlegel said the tune, popular in his youth, talks about finding one great love.

"I'm very fortunate that I found that in my wife, Heike," he said.

One of the pieces of equipment that Walheim and Love will install is an observatory to monitor the sun. The other will carry several experiments requiring exposure to the uniquely harsh environment of space.

Once those are attached to Columbus and the gyroscope is stowed in the shuttle's cargo bay, the spacewalkers hope to turn their attention to two trouble spots on the station.

The chip — discovered by Love during Monday's spacewalk and thus dubbed Love Crater — is the apparent result of a micrometeorite strike. It may be where spacewalking astronauts have torn their gloves over the past year or so. To find out, Walheim and Love will run a spare glove over the hole to see if the material snags.

The pair also hopes to have time to inspect the rotary joint, which is needed to turn one of the space station's two sets of huge solar wings. Spacewalkers have peered inside several times since the joint broke last fall, but NASA is still trying to determine what is causing the metal parts to grind, clogging the joint with shavings.

While the spacewalkers are outside, other crew members will continue working inside Columbus to get the lab ready to produce science in the coming days.

Atlantis is scheduled to undock from the space station on Monday and land in Florida on Wednesday.

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station will be working with Atlantis astronauts on the final spacewalk. The last bit of work that needs to be done consists of attaching science experiments to the outside of the European Space Agency lab Columbus. They hope to finish preparations for the spacewalk on Friday before they then finish the mission.

The spacewalk will have astronauts Rex Walheim and Stanley Love working for over six-hours-straight. This is going to be a long spacewalk as they have to install all of the experiments onto the Columbus lab.

One of the things they will be installing will be an observatory which will allow them to monitor the sun.

They also have to retrieve an old space station gyroscope, and try to repair a solar rotary joint. The other issue on the International Space Station has to do with a chip which was found during a spacewalk on Monday. It is believed to be on a handrail where the spacewalk begins.

Atlantis will make its return to Earth next week, landing in Florida on Wednesday. It will undock from the International Space Station on Monday.

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