CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – A giant solar wing ripped as it was being unfurled by astronauts aboard the International Space Station on Tuesday, creating another problem for NASA at the orbiting outpost.
The next shuttle flight could be delayed if this latest problem isn’t resolved quickly, said NASA’s space station program manager, Mike Suffredini. Atlantis is supposed to lift off in early December with a European laboratory.
The astronauts immediately halted the wing extension when they spotted the damage. By then, the solar panel was already extended 90 feet of its 115 feet. Space station commander Peggy Whitson said the sun angle prevented the team from seeing the 2 1/2 -foot tear sooner.
“It’s just the way it goes,” Mission Control said.
The torn solar wing can still provide power. NASA’s bigger concern is the structural problem posed by a partially deployed panel.
The damage was especially agonizing for the 10 space travelers because it came on the heels of an otherwise successful day.
Two of shuttle Discovery’s crew had just wrapped up a seven-hour spacewalk and were reveling in the smooth extension of the first of two retracted solar wings on a newly installed beam.
Crew member Scott Parazynski dealt with the other problem on the space station, inspecting one of two rotary joints that keep the station’s solar panels turned toward the sun.
Steel shavings were found during a spacewalk over the weekend in the joint on the right side of the station, and Parazynski was asked to look at the left joint for comparison. Everything inside that joint was shiny and looked pristine.
Until NASA figures out what’s grinding inside the gears and fixes it, the right joint will remain in a parked position as much as possible, limiting power collection.