NASA unfurled the international space station’s new solar wings for the first time Thursday in what looked like a giant accordion being stretched out in orbit.
“Big day for space station. Congratulations,” Mission Control radioed space shuttle Atlantis as the electricity generating panels glinted like gold bars in the sunlight. “We’re all extremely happy.”
The unfurling of the 240-foot wings was delayed about three hours because of a software glitch. The solar wings – part of a new $372 million addition that arrived aboard Atlantis this week – were folded up and mounted on blankets during the ride into space. They will provide about a quarter of the space station’s power when the orbiting outpost is completed in 2010.
The flight marks the first time since the Columbia disaster 3 1/2 years ago that construction on the half-built space station has resumed. The new piece was installed during two spacewalks this week.
Astronauts Joe Tanner and Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper will again don their spacesuits today to conduct the third and final spacewalk of the 11-day mission. Atlantis undocks from the space station on Sunday and will return home on Wednesday.
Convict caught, 30 years later
A convicted murderer who escaped from a Michigan psychiatric facility in 1976 was back behind bars Thursday after living most of his 30 years on the run as an otherwise law-abiding family man in Tennessee, authorities said.
Thomas Ball, 76, was arrested at his Nashville home Wednesday morning, Deputy U.S. Marshal Danny Shelton said.
Ball had been using the name Thomas Fry and had run a storage business near Nashville for years with a woman he called his wife, Shelton said. After she died last year, he turned to the government for financial help, and that led the marshals to his door.
“Maybe he never thought the knock would come, but it did yesterday,” Shelton said Thursday.
Ball was convicted in 1964 of stabbing a 19-year-old woman to death at the Strand Hotel in Detroit, said Michigan Corrections Department spokesman Leo Lalonde. He said Ball had known the woman for about a week.
Ball was sentenced to 20 to 40 years in prison and would have been released on parole by 1980 if he hadn’t escaped, according to Michigan records.