Orbital Finale: ISS Spacewalkers Free Stuck Cargo Ship Antenna
Expedition 14 commander Michael Lopez-Alegria, clad in a Russian-built Orlan spacesuit, steps outside the Pirs docking compartment at the International Space Station during a Feb. 22, 2007 spacewalk.
Credit: NASA TV.

Two astronauts successfully freed a stuck cargo ship antenna and broke records outside the International Space Station (ISS) Thursday despite a late start and spacesuit glitches during the last planned spacewalk of their six-month spaceflight.

ISS Expedition 14 commander Michael Lopez-Alegria and flight engineer Mikhail Tyurin spent more than six hours outside the station in the spacwalk, which was highlighted by a their spacecraft amputation work to cut loose a Progress 23 supply ship antenna [image].

"It may be a souvenir," Tyurin said of the antenna as it was cut free with a pair of spaceworthy bolt cutters and later tied to the Progress 23 vehicle's hull.

Thursday's spacewalk began at 5:27 a.m. EST (1027 GMT), nearly a half-hour later than planned, and marked the fifth excursion for the Expedition 14 astronauts -- the most ever for an ISS mission and the finale in a dense series of excurisions for the station crew. Tyurin and Lopez-Alegria each donned Russian-built Orlan spacesuits with red stripes [image].

"It's really absolutely beautiful, stunningly beautiful indeed," Tyurin said as he stepped into space during the six-hour, 18-minute spacewalk. [VIDEO: Spacewalk overview.]

Lopez-Alegria made his 10th career spacewalk during the activity, a new NASA record, while Tyurin completed his fifth career spacewalk [image].

Expedition 14 flight engineer Sunita Williams helped her crewmates into their spacesuits, remained inside the ISS to oversee the spacewalkers, exercise [image] and help better prepare the orbital laboratory for a planned March shuttle visit by NASA's STS-117 astronauts.

Antenna Chop Shop

Tyurin led today's Russian spacewalk, which was primarily aimed at removing and stowing the jammed Progress 23 navigation antenna [image].

[VIDEO: Progress 23 Antenna Details.]

Used by the Progress 23's automated Kurs navigation antenna for unpiloted dockings, the device failed to fold away against the vehicle's hull when the cargo ship arrived at the ISS in October 2006. Subsequent inspection during a November spacewalk found the antenna wedged against a station handrail near its berth at the aft end of the station's Zvezda service module.

Rick LaBrode, NASA lead Expedition 14 spacewalk flight director, said engineers were concerned that the stuck antenna could result in control problems with the Progress 23 spacecraft once it is jettisoned for disposal in April.

After efforts with a hammer and chisel provide fruitless, Tyurin and Lopez-Alegria cut a series of tent pole-like aluminum support struts using a generic U.S. bolt cutting tool. They then folded the antenna away and tied it down for safekeeping.

"We have the result, the result is achieved," Tyurin said.

Spacesuit glitch, other tasks

But throughout the spacewalk Tyurin, who goes by the nickname Misha, suffered from a spacesuit cooling system glitch with his sublimator, a device designed to extract heat from water to maintain a comfortable working temperature.

"Misha, your sublimator is not operating nominally," Russian flight controllers told Tyurin. "If there is trouble, you will have to go back."

The problem led to some hot times for Tyurin inside his spacesuit [image], who kept a light mood, likening the feeling to a warm day at NASA's Johnson Space Center home in Houston. But his helmet suffered from chronic fogging that at times made it difficult to see.

"I don't see anything," Tyurin said. "I don't see space. I don't see the Earth. I just see the guide here."

"Misha, this is not a joke, this is a recommendation," Russian flight controllers advised at one point. "Try to rub off the fogging from the helmet glass with your nose."

But later in the spacewalk, Lopez-Alegria brushed a layer of ice off of Tyurin's spacesuit exterior that prompted the sublimator to work more effectively. Tyurin also had difficulties with his spacesuit's cooling system during a November spacewalk due to a kinked water tube.

The two spacewalkers were then able to complete the remainder of their tasks, which included:

  • Photographing rendezvous hardware for the European Space Agency's Automated Transfer Vehicle (due to make its first ISS cargo delivery in July).
  • An inspection of a Russian Strela (or Arrow) hand-operated crane.
  • The installation of a new briefcase-sized materials exposure experiment to the orbital laboratory's hull.

With today's excursion under their belts, Tyurin now has a total of 25 hours and 40 minutes of spacewalking time while Lopez-Alegria -- the current U.S. champion -- has spent 67 hours and 40 minutes working outside the confines of a spacecraft.

Thursday's activity marked the 81st spacewalk dedicated to ISS assembly and maintenance. It was the 53rd staged from the station itself and the 20th to begin at the Russian-built Pirs compartment.