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Shuttle dodges space junk

Mon., March 23, 2009

Spacewalkers will try to fix jammed storage shelf today

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Confronted with orbiting junk again, NASA ordered the astronauts aboard the linked space station and shuttle Discovery to move out of the way of a piece of debris Sunday.

Discovery’s pilots fired their ship’s thrusters to reorient the two spacecraft and thereby avoid a small piece from a 10-year-old Chinese satellite rocket motor that was due to pass uncomfortably close during today’s planned spacewalk.

Space junk has been a recurring problem for the space station, especially recently.

The latest episode occurred as NASA scrambled to put together a spacewalking repair plan for a jammed equipment platform at the space station. Today – on the third and final spacewalk of Discovery’s mission – astronauts plan to return to an equipment storage shelf that jammed and could not be deployed Saturday. The spacewalkers accidentally had inserted a pin upside down. On Sunday, flight director Kwatsi Alibaruho said the catch for the mechanism is considerably stiffer than expected and engineers now believe the upside-down pin might not be the culprit after all.

Today’s spacewalkers – former schoolteachers Joseph Acaba and Richard Arnold II – will use all their strength this time to get the shelf properly deployed. They will have pry bars and hammers, just in case. If nothing works, the jammed platform will simply be tied down with sturdier tethers.

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