Astronauts head outside to install station addition

Sat Jul 18, 2009 1:19pm EDT
 
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By Irene Klotz

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) - Two U.S. astronauts left the International Space Station on Saturday for a spacewalk to prepare the last piece of Japan's Kibo laboratory for installation on the orbital complex.

Lead spacewalker David Wolf and rookie astronaut Timothy Kopra slipped out of the station's airlock at 12:30 p.m. EDT to begin the first of five spacewalks planned during shuttle Endeavour's stay at the station. The shuttle arrived Friday for an 11-day mission.

"Welcome to EVA," Endeavor astronaut Chris Cassidy, who was directing the spacewalk -- or extravehicular activity in NASA parlance -- told the astronauts as they began what was expected to be a 6.1/2-hour outing.

The main goal of Saturday's spacewalk is to prepare a Japanese-built platform to be attached to the front of the station's $2.4 billion Kibo laboratory. The platform is designed to hold experiments that need to be exposed to the open environment of space.

Wolf and Kopra plan to remove thermal covers and reconfigure cables so that robotic cranes aboard the station and shuttle can be used to lift the four-tonne platform out of Endeavour's cargo bay and mount it onto Kibo. Experiments will be loaded aboard later during the mission.

NO ADDITIONAL INSPECTIONS NEEDED

The spacewalkers also have some station maintenance chores on their to-do list, including working on an equipment cart and preparing a docking port for Japan's new cargo ship, which is scheduled to make its debut flight later this year.

NASA also completed its initial analysis of Endeavour's heat shield on Saturday, and determined that no additional inspections would be needed by the shuttle crew.   Continued...

 
<p>In this image provided by NASA, the Space Shuttle Endeavour is seen as it was photographed by an Expedition 20 crew member during a survey of the approaching vehicle prior to docking with the International Space Station July 17, 2009. Picture taken July 17, 2009. REUTERS/NASA/Handout</p>