Melissa Mathews/James Hartsfield
Johnson Space Center, Houston
August 3, 2005
NASA's Spacewalking Astronaut Completes Unique Repair
With surgical precision, the crews of the Space Shuttle Discovery and the International Space Station today completed a delicate operation to remove loose material sticking out between heat-shielding tiles on the Orbiter's belly.
Spacewalking astronaut Steve Robinson rode the Station's robotic arm to reach Discovery's underside, and he easily pulled out two ceramic cloth gap fillers protruding from the tiled surface. "It looks like this big patient is cured," Robinson said when the task was complete.
Today marks the first time an astronaut worked on the underside of a Shuttle in space. A large ground team of engineers, flight controllers and experienced astronauts spent several days planning the task. On Monday, mission managers decided to add the job to today's already-planned spacewalk. NASA wanted to ensure the protruding fillers would not add extra heating to the tiles, as Discovery re-entered the atmosphere.
Aboard Discovery, STS-114 astronaut Andy Thomas coordinated the spacewalk, while astronauts Jim Kelly and Wendy Lawrence operated the Shuttle and Station robotic arms. Japanese astronaut and fellow spacewalker Soichi Noguchi kept an eye on Robinson and helped with communications.
New imaging and inspection capabilities developed after the Shuttle Columbia accident allowed engineers to identify the protruding gap fillers on Discovery. They were spotted in photographs taken from the Station during an unprecedented back flip maneuver Commander Eileen Collins guided Discovery through as it approached the complex. The flip allowed the Station crew to photograph the Shuttle's underside.
Commander Collins and the Discovery crew are scheduled to return to Earth early Monday. For more information, including images of today's spacewalk, visit:
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