July 19, 2009 in Nation/World

Astronauts install porch on lab

Japan’s section of space station is now complete
Marcia Dunn Associated Press
 

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Astronauts working inside and out installed a porch for experiments on Japan’s enormous space station lab Saturday, accomplishing the major objective despite microphone static that often drowned out the spacewalkers’ voices.

Veteran spaceman David Wolf and rookie Timothy Kopra could barely make themselves understood at times because of the loud static emanating from Kopra’s helmet microphones.

“Dave, you’re unreadable,” astronaut Christopher Cassidy called from inside the shuttle-station complex.

The trouble lasted the entire 5 1/2 -hour spacewalk, the first of five planned during Endeavour’s space station visit.

Mission Control officials said it was a challenge to monitor the 220-mile-high action, especially with so many people in orbit – a record crowd of 13. But they said the static never threatened safety.

The problem apparently was with the two microphone booms in the cap worn by Kopra under his helmet. The booms were too far from his mouth – he could not move them once his helmet was on – and the ventilation flow created all the static. The booms may have been bumped as he was putting on his helmet.

This was Kopra’s only spacewalk for the mission, so the airwaves should be much quieter when astronauts step back outside Monday.

Despite the nerve-racking racket, the spacewalkers managed to prep the Kibo – Hope in Japanese – lab and the new porch for their mechanical hookup. Wolf removed a cover from the lab and tossed it overboard; the white cover drifted away, flipping end over end.

The spacewalkers then moved on to other routine work at the International Space Station as their colleagues inside used the shuttle and station robot arms, one at a time, to lift the Japanese porch from Endeavour’s payload bay and hoist it toward the Kibo lab. The spacewalk was over by the time the porch was finally latched in place.

It marked the completion of Japan’s $1 billion lab, so big that it required three shuttle flights to launch everything. The first two sections of the lab flew up last year.

The veranda – about 16 feet square – will get its first outdoor experiments in five more days.

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