DISCOVERY astronauts' next task: laying groundwork for future space station construction

Saturday, August 18th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SPACE CENTER, Houston (AP) _ Two space shuttle Discovery astronauts floated outside Saturday to begin laying the groundwork for future construction on the international space station.

Astronauts Daniel Barry and Patrick Forrester ventured outside the shuttle for a 5 1/2 hour spacewalk to install handrails on space station Alpha's Destiny lab and lay cables along them.

The cables, which are between 40 and 50 feet long, are needed as a backup way of providing power to heaters on the center segment of the station's truss structure. The segment is set to be delivered early next year.

NASA approved the spacewalk Friday after the crews of Discovery and the space station indicated they were almost done transferring thousands of pounds of supplies from a module brought by the shuttle.

Discovery delivered new crew members to Alpha last weekend. While U.S. astronaut Frank Culbertson, Alpha's new skipper, officially took command of the space station when he and two Russian cosmonauts moved in on Monday, a ceremony to mark the event was delayed until Friday because of the work involved in unpacking and refilling the module.

``Now it's time to pass the station from our hands to your hands, from our mind to your mind, and from our heart to your heart,'' Russian cosmonaut Yuri Usachev, the space station's ex-commander, said in the 250-mile-high ceremony.

``We will pick up where you left off,'' replied Culbertson. He added: ``Bon voyage, spasibo bolshoye, thank you for everything. You guys are the best.''

Culbertson and his Russian crewmates, Vladimir Dezhurov and Mikhail Tyurin, will spend the next four months on the space station.

The two crews were to continue meeting Saturday to go over station operations and continue packing the Italian-made module named Leonardo with trash and used equipment for return to Earth.

The outgoing crew of Usachev and U.S. astronauts Jim Voss and Susan Helms is set to return to Earth aboard Discovery next week. They have spent about 5 1/2 months in orbit.

Tyurin praised the old station crew, saying ``they are like a very good family.''

``Teamwork has been one of the themes for our expedition,'' Voss said. ``We've all worked together to try and make the station better.''

Saturday's spacewalk would be the second by Barry and Forrester in three days. On Thursday, they attached a bulky container filled with ammonia coolant and two briefcaselike boxes filled with samples of various materials to Alpha. NASA wants to see how the materials fare in the harsh environment of space.