Spacewalkers get space station ready for robot arm and fix latch

Tuesday, March 13th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SPACE CENTER, Houston (AP) _ Two space shuttle Discovery astronauts early Tuesday prepped the international space station to receive a robotic arm and fixed a sticky solar-panel latch during a nearly 6 1/2 hour spacewalk.

Andrew Thomas and Paul Richards completed critical wire connections that will provide power, data and video links between space station Alpha and its robotic arm _ set to be delivered in April.

``You all did an outstanding job,'' Mission Control said at the end of the spacewalk.

This was the second and final spacewalk of Discovery's mission. Besides continuing work on the space station, the shuttle is delivering Alpha's first replacement crew, made up of astronauts Jim Voss, Susan Helms and their Russian commander Yuri Usachev, and an Italian-made module filled with 5 tons of supplies.

The wiring was considered the most difficult task of the two spacewalks. The work was left undone during Sunday's record-breaking nine-hour spacewalk by Voss and Helms.

Thomas and Richards got a late start and did not exit the shuttle until well after midnight Monday.

The astronauts also climbed to the top of the station and fixed a latch on one of the station's giant solar wings that wasn't deployed when the electricity-producing wings were installed in early December. Thomas used a crowbar-like tool to tap the latch into place.

``Yup that tap worked. You got it Andy, good job,'' Richards said.

The wing had been secure without the latch.

Before Thomas went up to the solar wings, his safety tether line got tangled up and he had to be helped by Richards. He also had some trouble positioning himself to reach the latch.

Thomas and Richards also installed a platform on the U.S. science lab Destiny, a spare ammonia pump on this platform and inspected a static-electricity monitor on the outside of Alpha. The monitor appeared not to be working.

Richards also inspected a condensate vent on the lab and determined it was securely in place.

Thomas, who is from Australia, took some time during the spacewalk to admire the view.

``I'm passing over South Australia and I can see the coastline, my hometown all very clearly. Quite extraordinary,'' Thomas said.

Richards was thrilled to use the power tool that he designed almost 10 years ago for the first Hubble Space Telescope repair mission.

``I designed it, hoping to use it someday, and today's the day,'' Richards said.

Usachev and Voss have settled in aboard Alpha. Helms will join them Tuesday. They will spend the next four months living aboard the station.

The three will relieve American Bill Shepherd and his two Russian crewmates, who have been aboard the orbiting outpost for the past four months.

Inside the space station, its crew started removing some of the gear in the module, which was attached to Alpha early Monday. Once emptied and refilled with trash, the module, named Leonardo, will be put back in the shuttle and brought back to Earth March 20.

Leonardo was carrying power-distribution equipment for Destiny. The equipment was installed and began receiving electricity from the solar wings early Tuesday.

It also contained such things as the first set of experiments for the laboratory, a defibrillator and other emergency medical gear.