Michael Cabbage The Orlando Sentinel
December 06, 2000
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. NASA spacewalkers turned on the international space station’s new solar power plant Tuesday while preparing for some impromptu maintenance in orbit.
Astronauts aboard shuttle Endeavour mated the $600 million solar array to the station on Sunday. However, one of the array’s twin 115-foot wings failed to stretch taut when unfurled by the crew. A second wing extended flawlessly Monday after being unfolded more slowly.
Mission managers are anxious to get the slack wing deployed properly. The array is generating power and works perfectly. But there’s concern that vibrations from shuttle dockings, undockings and thruster firings could damage the panels if they’re not pulled tight.
Spacewalkers Joe Tanner and Carlos Noriega inspected the wing Tuesday from a vantage point 90 feet above the shuttle as they mounted a communications antenna atop the array. The astronauts reported cables used to pull the wing from its storage canisters appeared to have slipped off guide pulleys.
“We could put it (the cable) back on that one pulley,” Tanner told Mission Control. “The other one is going to be a little work.”
A team of engineers and astronauts has been working with the solar array’s manufacturer, Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., to come up with a fix before Thursday. That’s when Tanner and Noriega are scheduled to make the third and final spacewalk of Endeavour’s 11-day flight to install a probe designed to monitor static electricity.
Because that spacewalk is relatively short, there’s plenty of unscheduled time to repair the wing. The tentative plan is to send the astronauts to the top of the array with a tool to grab the cable and slip it back on track.
“What you told us about the side that’s not tensioned is about what the guys in Sunnyvale had expected to see,” veteran spacewalker Jerry Ross told the spacewalkers from Mission Control. “We think we’ve got, hopefully, a pretty good handle on it and can probably fix it.”
Tanner and Noriega breezed through Tuesday’s chores outside the station, installing electrical cables to distribute power throughout the outpost, relocating the communications antenna, hooking up coolant lines and doing get ahead jobs for the next shuttle flight. The electrical connections will allow the station’s three full-time residents to fully power up and begin using a U.S. module that has been off limits so far.
© 2000, The Orlando Sentinel (Fla.).