In a routine but difficult spacewalk Monday, two
astronauts fixed a crucial piece of the international space station, allowing it
to be added on to later this year.
In this image made from NASA TV, astronaut
Piers Sellers gathers tools on the outside of the International Space
Station during a spacewalk Monday, July 10, 2006. [AP
Space shuttle Discovery astronauts Piers Sellers and Michael Fossum replaced
a cable reel to a rail car needed to move large pieces around the giant orbital
outpost in a spacewalk dotted with glitches.
The reel, severed accidentally last year by a cable cutter, provides video,
data and power to the rail car. The astronauts immobilized the cutter in their
first spacewalk Saturday.
NASA managers said fixing the cable reel was vital to space station
construction, which will take 15 more shuttle flights.
"Whew, man, do I feel better," space station flight director Rick LaBrode
told journalists after the spacewalk. "I tell you, I've spent the better part of
the last three years of my life putting together this mission, and this
particular (spacewalk) was my main concern.
"If we didn't get this successfully changed and checked out, then we couldn't
proceed with the next mission which was on our heels," LaBrode said. "There were
challenges and concerns but it turned out great."
The astronauts were just as relieved.
"The job worked out," Sellers said when he finally finished the difficult
task of installing the broken reel in the shuttle's cargo bay. The reel didn't
fit, so the astronauts twisted harder with a wrench until it was snug.
He was further delayed by a loose piece of spacewalking safety equipment that
forced him to stay still until Fossum fixed it. The two connecting devices of
Sellers' backpack attachment, designed to be used if an astronaut floats free,
loosened at different times, but he was never in danger of losing it, NASA
As he was getting back into the international space station's airlock,
Sellers let out a long chuckle and said he went through "every contingency I
hadn't thought of."
For his part, Fossum also had a hard time getting the new reel in place. But
eventually everything fit, and the astronauts got all their tasks done. They
just needed 12 minutes more than planned for their work.
Before fixing the cable reel, Fossum and Sellers breezed through the first
part of their spacewalk, installing a 1,400-pound spare external pump
compartment on the station's cooling system.
That first part of the spacewalk went so smoothly that the duo, on their
second of three spacewalks this mission, exchanged quips, jokes and even gibes
at astronauts back in the shuttle.
Sellers came out of the hatch first, followed by Fossum, as the space station
and Discovery passed about 220 miles above Spain.
"Everyone can hear you scream," said Fossum, in a twist on the tag line from
the movie "Alien."
Sellers retorted: "About the time I get outside, I'll put on my alien
At one point, Discovery pilot Mark Kelly radioed to Fossum, an accomplished
Eagle Scout, and said that the Boy Scouts would be impressed, but that if he had
botched his task they would have taken away his Eagle, a lifelong honor.
They would make Fossum "a sparrow," Sellers cracked, making up a nonexistent
When a cover for the pump module enveloped Fossum's head, he said, "I just
threw a sheet over my head."
Then the duo turned their tongues at Discovery commander Steve Lindsey,
teasing him for being overly caffeinated.
"Just keep him away from the chocolate-covered coffee beans; he's probably
vibrating by now," Fossum said.
At one point Kelly told Sellers: "Enjoy the break; it's the last one you're
going to get today."
That proved all too prescient.
The wisecracks turned to comments such as "This is a tricky place to work"
from Sellers, and "We're getting a workout" from Fossum.
The one aspect the spacewalkers worried most about, a point at which Sellers
held the old 330-pound cable reel in one hand and the new one in the other hand,
went without a hitch.
The astronauts got welcome news Sunday when NASA managers cleared Discovery's
thermal protective skin as safe for a return to Earth on July 17. Hundreds of
images of Discovery were taken during liftoff, during the orbital flight to the
space station and before docking with the complex to make sure the shuttle
doesn't have any damage like the kind that doomed Columbia's seven astronauts in