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Spacewalk added, shuttle return delayed

Sun., Dec. 17, 2006

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – After having some success retracting a balky solar array on Saturday, NASA plans to send two astronauts out to work on it some more on Monday in a fourth spacewalk.

This new addition to the shuttle’s flight plan, announced late Saturday, pushes back Discovery’s landing to Friday.

After completing their main spacewalk tasks on Saturday, Robert Curbeam and Sunita Williams manually shook the array and managed to free some stuck grommets but not enough to fold the array up into a box properly.

The array was more than half retracted when the duo approached it. After scores of shakes and remote control commands to retract, the accordion-like array folded into a box another several degrees, eventually retracting 65 percent.

“We really commend you for a tremendous effort, an Olympian effort of our two shaking EVA members,” Mission Control radioed to the astronauts, using the technical acronym for spacewalk. The duo clocked a marathon 7 hour, 31 minute-spacewalk, the last two hours of which were spent working on the array.

Curbeam and Williams made progress on a problem that has vexed NASA since Wednesday. Early next week, Curbeam and Swedish astronaut Christer Fuglesang, who performed two earlier spacewalks on this mission, will again step outside the space station in hopes of fixing this problem once and for all.

The partially retracted solar wing was part of the space station’s temporary power system.


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