CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – The space shuttle Atlantis reached the International Space Station on Saturday, carrying the first science laboratory in seven years. But the trip may have proved a little rough for one astronaut.
NASA delayed the first spacewalk of the mission by 24 hours and announced that American astronaut Stanley Love will take the place of his European counterpart, Hans Schlegel of Germany, on the extra-vehicular activity, now scheduled for Monday. Love will work with U.S. lead spacewalker Rex Walheim.
NASA said the delay and swap were due to a “crew medical issue.”
Shuttle Commander Steve Frick had earlier placed private medical calls to Mission Control in Houston, apparently about Schlegel. NASA does not discuss astronaut health issues because of privacy concerns, but motion sickness is not uncommon during the first few days in zero gravity.
John Shannon, the co-chair of the Mission Management Team, would not confirm that Schlegel was ill or provide any details about what prompted the change in the spacewalker lineup and the delay. However, Schlegel did look a little queasy in the first pictures beamed to Earth when the crew left the shuttle and entered the space station.
Atlantis’ crew is scheduled to carry out three spacewalks during the 11-day mission to install and outfit the Columbus lab module, Europe’s biggest contribution to the International Space Station. The first spacewalk to move Columbus out of the shuttle’s cargo bay was originally scheduled for early today. NASA will also reschedule the other two spacewalks, according to Mission Control. Astronauts need at least 24 hours between forays into space. NASA is trying to finish construction on the space station by 2010, when the agency wants to retire the shuttle fleet.
Atlantis blasted off from Kennedy Space Center on Friday, following a two-month delay so engineers could repair a faulty fuel gauge. Atlantis arrived at the station early on Saturday. Before docking, the shuttle performed a back-flip maneuver that enabled the crew on the space station to take pictures of the ship’s underbelly to check for damage to the heat-absorbing tiles from foam or ice during launch.