Astronauts Ready for Space Station Fix
The STS-120 shuttle and Expedition 16 station crews participate in the joint crew news conference taking questions from reporters in America, Italy and Russia on Oct. 31, 2007.
Credit: NASA TV.

HOUSTON - Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) said today that they are ready for any repair work needed outside the orbital laboratory, even as NASA delayed a planned spacewalk in order to fix a torn solar wing.

The problems in space regard the orbital laboratory's solar power-generating equipment: A solar wing on the space station's port-side that ripped during deployment yesterday, followed by a potentially damaged set of solar-array-orienting gears on the starboard side.

Pamela Melroy, commander for the STS-120 space shuttle mission, said her seven-astronaut crew is ready to help.

"I think that it's just welcome to spaceflight. You never know what's going to happen every morning when you wake up," Melroy said of the evolving trouble in space. "We feel confident that whatever comes we're going to able to handle it."

Space station commander for the Expedition 16 mission Peggy Whitson expressed her confidence in NASA's ability to deal with unexpected changes.

"NASA's a very can-do organization and if there's a way to do it, we will figure out a smart way ? to make it happen," Whitson said during the joint space shuttle and station crew conference this morning. "We're all up here ready to support."

Evolving plans

Mission controllers said this morning that they're scrapping Thursday's original spacewalk plans and delaying it to devise a fix for the torn solar array, which astronauts might carry out during the fourth of five planned spacewalks for the 15-day space shuttle mission.

"We're going to change the plan for the next couple of days," NASA astronaut Tony Antonelli, a spacecraft communicator, told Melroy from mission control. Antonelli said the 6.5-hour spacewalk will happen either Friday or Saturday, hinging on how quickly mission managers can devise a new plan.

"The content will be solar array wing stuff," Antonelli said of spacewalk procedures to inspect or possibly repair recent damage to the Port 6 (P) truss segment's 4B solar array wing.

Spacewalker Scott Parazynski said he is eager to help remedy the ripped solar wing, which is attached to a 35,000-pound (15,875-kilogram) Port 6 (P6) truss he helped reattach to the space station with Doug Wheelock yesterday morning.

"It really depends on what the root cause is," Parazynski said of the 2.5-foot (0.76-meter) rip in the 4B solar wing. "We have trained quite a bit on the flight simulator in Houston ? on the numerous contingencies that we could affect on the solar array wings. But I'm not sure if they're applicable to this situation."

Solar array quick fix?

Although the partially-deployed, torn wing is generating 97 percent of its fully-deployed ability, mission managers said its structural integrity is a concern.

NASA spokesperson James Hartsfield said mission managers are discussing two options to reach the torn solar wing: one is to put a spacewalker on the end of the space station's arm lengthened by the space shuttle's orbital boom sensor system (OBSS).

"The other is to retract the array to within reach of the astronauts," Hartsfield said. Spacewalking astronauts used such a procedure to help fix a solar array during the STS-117 mission, ISS program manager Mike Suffredini said, but noted that getting in reach of the recent tear may be tricky.

"We're going to have these things ? to where we can get to it," Suffredini said of the damaged array. Because the space station's grapple fixture doesn't match the one found on the end of the OBSS, however, Suffredini said he wasn't sure the astronaut-on-an-arm plan would work.

"My guess is you'll hear about us talking about ? retracting the arrays to try and get them in reach," he said.

Whatever approach might be used to rescue the solar wing, Hartsfield said mission managers might revise the fifth and final EVA of the mission to continue with a workaround for the technical issue.

On Nov. 7, the space shuttle and Discovery and its seven-astronaut crew are slated to return to Earth. The original 14-day mission has been extended once to 15 days, and NASA officials said the crew has enough supplies on board to last another two days docked with the space station.