Space walking Endeavour astronauts sailed through an add-on job to tension a solar blanket Thursday, then completed their other tasks in textbook fashion. They topped off their scheduled activities with an image of an evergreen tree placed atop the P6 solar array structure, the highest point in their construction project.
"We had a great day," Glenda Laws, lead EVA officer, said at an evening briefing.
Space walkers Joe Tanner and Carlos Noriega also installed a centerline camera cable outside the Unity module. It will transmit television images to help a shuttle crew attach the U.S. laboratory Destiny next month. The last of their scheduled tasks was installation of the Floating Potential Probe. The FPP, atop the P6, measures the electrical potential of plasma around the station. The evergreen tree image was on a transfer bag they attached to the FPP symbolizing "topping out" of the space station - a tradition followed by Earth-based construction workers when a building reaches its final height.
The blanket tensioning task had been quickly and carefully planned. On Wednesday Mission Control sent up to Endeavour descriptions of the task and video of fellow Astronaut David Wolf performing the solar blanket work on the ground.
The space walk began at 10:13 a.m., more than 35 minutes earlier than planned. After the space walkers moved to the top of the P6, crew members inside Endeavour, Commander Brent Jett, Pilot Mike Bloomfield and Mission Specialist Marc Garneau retracted the mast extending the starboard wing, which had been deployed Sunday, by two or three feet. Noriega pulled the slack tensioning cables through each take-up reel. Tanner turned the spring-loaded tension reels, then let them unwind while Noriega guided the cable onto the reel grooves, tensioning the slack blanket. The 240-foot-long, 38-foot-wide solar array continues to function well.
The scheduled activities went so smoothly that Tanner and Noriega were able to complete some "get-ahead" tasks for the next scheduled space walks outside the space station in January. These included installing a sensor on a radiator, installing small antennas and doing a photo survey. Even so, they were able to conclude their space walk at 3:23 p.m., after 5 hours and 10 minutes outside. This brings total space walk time during STS-97 to 19 hours and 20 minutes, and total space walk time outside the station to 88 hours and 54 minutes.
The space station's crew, Commander Bill Shepherd and cosmonauts Sergei Krikalev and Yuri Gidzenko, packaged items for transfer to Endeavour and return to Earth. Their scheduled sleep period began a little after 3:30 p.m. They were to be awakened at 12:06 a.m. Friday. Endeavour's crew was scheduled to go to bed a little after 10 p.m. and be awakened at 6:06 a.m. Friday.
The two crews will meet face to face, for the first time since Endeavour docked to the space station last Saturday, a little after 8:30 a.m. Friday.
The next STS-97 status report will be issued Friday morning.
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