After a week of dealing with satellite problems, Endeavour’s astronauts have one last major job in orbit - stepping outside and getting as cold as possible.
The last time shuttle astronauts took a spacewalk, in February, their fingers froze and they had to hurry back inside.
James Voss and Michael Gernhardt will try out new heated gloves during Saturday’s six-hour spacewalk in the bitter cold - minus-135 degrees Fahrenheit at times. They will also be testing thermal mittens, thermal socks, boot inserts and redesigned long underwear.
NASA is experimenting with gear to keep spacewalking astronauts warm when they start building the international space station near the end of the decade. Construction and maintenance will require hundreds of hours of spacewalks.
Gernhardt said he considers the spacewalk a “midterm exam” for NASA.
“We’re going to be evaluating, essentially, most of the building blocks that will make up the space station assembly and maintenance tasks,” Gernhardt said during a space-to-Earth news conference. “It’s really going to let us quantify where we’re at, where we need to go.”
On Friday, the five astronauts finally wrapped up work with the Wake Shield, a huge steel disk that was plagued by communication and power problems. The satellite produced far less semiconductor film in the pure vacuum of space than planned during three days of free flight.
Earlier in the week, the crew had to contend with a balky solar-science satellite that they released and retrieved during the mission.
“We’d be very silly to believe that you can do experimental science and not have problems,” said shuttle commander David Walker.
For nearly five hours Friday, the astronauts dangled the Wake Shield overboard on the end of the shuttle crane to monitor charged particles flowing past the spacecraft.
They also beamed down video pictures of Hurricane Marilyn swirling in the Atlantic Ocean 213 miles below, and showed off some goodies: a small bag of dog chow.
The astronauts jokingly call themselves the Dog Crew. Each has or recently had at least one dog at home, the favorites being poodles and Labrador retrievers. They also have two stuffed dogs in orbit as mascots.
Endeavour is due back Monday at the Kennedy Space Center, where work on a different sort of flight is taking place.
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