Two astronauts are safely back inside the International Space Station (ISS) after toiling outside to retrieve a series of experiments and outfit the orbital laboratory for a new cargo ship expected next year.
The spacewalk ended early for ISS Expedition 11 commander Sergei Krikalev and flight engineer John Phillips, who were ordered back inside the station by Russian flight controllers after completing all but one of their appointed tasks.
Russian flight controllers decided to forgo the relocation of a grappling fixture for the station's Strela boom - a two-hour job - after citing that the astronauts did not have enough consumables or time to complete the procedure. Krikalev and Phillips had fallen about 45 minutes behind schedule during the spacewalk.
"There is no margin," flight controllers said.
"Well it's a pity, we had it planned, I think we could have done it," Krikalev said, apparently disappointed. "If the decision is made, the decision is made."
Originally slated to run six hours, the spacewalk lasted four hours and 58 minutes. It is the only extravehicular activity (EVA) planned for the Expedition 11 crew, NASA officials said.
Krikalev and Phillips are in the fourth month of their six-month mission aboard the ISS. They began their spacewalk at 3:02 p.m. EDT (1902 GMT).
Retrieving science, preparing for ATV
Thursday's spacewalk marked the eighth EVA for Krikalev, a veteran space flyer who now holds the record of the most cumulative days in space - he's spent 750 days in orbit and counting. The spacewalk was a career first for Phillips.
"You can't get this view from the station, however much you look," Krikalev said while he and Phillips worked outside the ISS.
The two astronauts retrieved several material exposure experiments from the exterior of the station's Zvezda service module, including Matryoshka - a nearly life-size torso filled with radiation sensors and the equivalent of human tissue. The experiment, named after the Russian nesting dolls, is designed to measure the effects of the space radiation environment on the human body for future exploration missions to the moon and Mars.
"We are now against the window and can see there's no one home," Krikalev said as he and Phillips pulled Matryoshka and other experiment back inside the Pirs compartment.
Krikalev and Phillips also installed a backup television camera at the docking port at the aft end of Zvezda.
The camera will assist in docking operations for the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), an unmanned cargo ship developed by the European Space Agency to haul food, supplies and other equipment to the ISS. The first ATV, dubbed Jules Verne, will launch toward the station in 2006, NASA officials said.
Thursday's spacewalk was the 62nd EVA aimed at maintaining and assembling the space station. It marked the 34th spacewalk staged from the ISS itself and the 16th EVA to begin at the Pirs docking compartment.
Krikalev and Phillips arrived at the ISS aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft in mid-April, and are scheduled to ride that spacecraft back to Earth with space tourist Greg Olsen - who will accompany the Expedition 12 crew to the station - in early October.
- Complete Coverage: ISS Expedition 11