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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

New Shuttle Team Ready for Walk After Day’s Delay

Sick Astronaut Prepares to Spacewalk
German astronaut Hans Schlegel floated out of the international space station for his first spacewalk on Wednesday, two days after an illness forced the shuttle Atlantis crew member to skip an outing to install a new European lab.

Schlegel and American astronaut Rex Walheim ventured outside minutes before the space station passed over Cologne, Germany. They will spend the day replacing a nitrogen tank on the orbiting outpost.

"Hello to all the people of Germany," Walheim said. "What a pleasure it is to be up here spacewalking with one of your native sons, Hans Schlegel."

Schlegel said spacewalking is great.

"It's great to be a part of an international team ... doing research in space," he added.

In a series of broadcast interviews Tuesday, Schlegel said he was feeling great but was a little anxious about his first venture outside the safe confines of the cabin. He refused to say what had been ailing him, insisting "medical issues are private."

NASA and European Space Agency officials stressed there were no changes to Wednesday's 6 1/2-hour spacewalk on Schlegel's behalf, and that he would do everything just as he'd practiced before last week's launch. No one was opposed to his going outside to perform the strenuous spacewalking work, officials said.

Schlegel, 56, said Tuesday he backed NASA's decision to pull him off the first spacewalk because of his illness and delay Columbus' hookup by a day, even though it was a bitter pill.

"Nobody could have been happier than me when we finished (Monday's spacewalk) with the major objectives all done," he said.

Schlegel and the nine other space travelers spent Tuesday opening up the $2 billion Columbus lab and getting its equipment running. They were continuing that work Wednesday.

The astronauts — wearing goggles to guard against floating dust, metal chips or other debris — opened up floor panels to get to the equipment underneath, and turned on computers, heaters and fans. A few of the systems had startup trouble, but that's normal for a brand new piece of hardware, NASA managers said.


Astronaut better, OKd for spacewalk
The European space station program manager, Alan Thirkettle, said it was thrilling to see astronauts inside Columbus, which was immaculate and brilliantly white.

"They're doing the first thing that the crew does, which is to make a complete mess of what was a beautiful piece of clean hardware inside," Thirkettle joked.

Atlantis will remain at the space station until at least Sunday. NASA is considering keeping the shuttle there an extra day.

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station spent Sunday moving supplies from the shuttle Atlantis and preparing for a spacewalk delayed by the illness of a German astronaut.

NASA officials said Sunday that everything was ready for a critical Monday spacewalk in which astronauts will prepare the European Columbus science module to be removed from the shuttle’s cargo bay and attached to the station.

Hans Schlegel, a European Space Agency astronaut from Germany, appeared well and talkative in videos of crews working aboard the station. Mr. Schlegel had been scheduled to be one of two astronauts on the first excursion outside to work on the science module, but he was pulled from the assignment because of an undisclosed illness, causing a one-day delay.

The crews were awakened Sunday by a German song selected by Mr. Schlegel’s wife. In a radio message back to mission control, he said, “Greetings to everybody in America, in Europe and in Germany, and especially of course to my close family and my lovely wife, Heike.”

NASA officials announced the change shortly after the shuttle and its seven-man crew arrived at the station on Saturday, but refused to identify the astronaut or the nature of the illness, citing privacy concerns. The European Space Agency confirmed that the astronaut was Mr. Schlegel, 56, a physicist and former paratrooper on his second spaceflight.

“E.S.A. astronaut Hans Schlegel was fully fit to launch with Columbus on 7 February,” the agency said in a statement. “However, a condition developed that is not life- or mission-threatening in any way, but that could affect his efficiency during a spacewalk.”

Stanley G. Love will join Col. Rex J. Walheim of the Air Force in getting the laboratory prepared to be lifted out of the shuttle’s cargo bay by a robot arm and attached to the station.

NASA officials would not say definitely if Mr. Schlegel would resume his schedule or if his medical issue had been resolved.

But Michael Sarafin, the lead flight director for the shuttle, said in a Sunday news conference from the Johnson Space Center in Houston that the rest of the mission would be performed as planned, meaning that Mr. Schlegel was still assigned to a spacewalk now set for Wednesday.

John Shannon, chairman of the Mission Management Team for NASA, said the shuttle’s heat shield had been inspected and cleared. The only remaining issue was a small tear along the seam of an insulating blanket atop one of the shuttle’s rear engine pods. Mr. Shannon said no one was overly concerned about the tear, but astronauts used a camera on the shuttle’s robot arm to get a closer look on Sunday. Managers will determine later if repairs might be needed.

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