Monday, February 28, 2011

Discovery astronauts begin first spacewalk of mission

Discovery astronauts work outside space station today. (NASA)

(UPDATED: 2:05 p.m. EST) -- Shuttle Discovery astronauts Steve Bowen and Alvin Drew left the comfort of the International Space Station this morning to perform several chores in support of earth's orbital outpost.

Today's spacewalk began at 10:46 a.m. EST, and is Bowen's sixth orbital walk having accumulated 34 1/2-hours of spacewalking time on two shuttle flights.

Drew became the 200th person to perform a spacewalk in human history as he set out on his first walk in space.

Bowen and Drew paused prior to departing the airlock to acknowledge former Discovery crew mate and lead spacewalker Tim Kopra who will help the duo from Mission Control during the spacewalk.

"I'm really looking forward to working with you guys," Kopra radioed astronauts Bowen and Drew moments before the walk began. "You're a good man for the job," Kopra addressed to Bowen his replacement on the mission.

Bowen was added to Discovery's crew on January 19 to replace Kopra following a bike accident by Kopra a few days earlier in which he suffered a fractured hip in January.

As the crew worked 222 miles above earth, Discovery astronaut and former station resident in 2009 Nicole Stott is serving as the coordinator of the spacewalk.

The spacewalk is the first of two planned during Discovery's week long visit to the space station, and is the 154th 'walk in support of space station construction and maintenance.

Today's walk also marked the 234th venture outside a spacecraft by an American astronaut since Ed White first left his Gemini IV craft in 1965.

The duo will install a power extension cable to the Unity; relocate a failed ammonia module which failed last year to a storage platform for it's return to earth; and a Japanese "Message in a Bottle" experiment which will be released into space and return to earth.

The first issue in the early minutes of the spacewalk was Bowen's spacesuit helmet camera failed to work. Controllers on the ground along with Stott trouble shot the camera issue. It was later fixed a bit later.

"I think we're moving along pretty well here...", Stott radioed the astronauts as they completed the installation of the J612 power cable, a back up which runs from the Unity to the Tranquility nodes.

Bowen then transitioned over to the space station's 58-foot robotic arm followed by Drew to install a work platform on the end of the arm. Bowen will ride the arm as the pair moves the ammonia tank to a new storage location.

Just over 100 minutes into the spacewalk, the
Robotics Work Station computer in the Cupola node shutdown, stopping control of the station's robotic arm.

Arm operators station commander Scott Kelly and Discovery astronaut Mike Barratt were told to switch to the Destiny module's backup work station to resume using the arm to translate Bowen over the lab complex.

By 2 PM, the astronauts were running fifteen minutes behind schedule.

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