Space Station Unfurls Last Solar Wings
Wing with a View: This camera view shows one of the two new starboard ISS solar wings deployed on March 20, 2009 by the STS-119 crew.
Credit: NASA TV.

This story was updated at 6:33 p.m. EDT.

The International Space Station unfurled its last set of solar wings Friday, boosting the orbiting laboratory up to full power after more than 10 years of construction.

Astronauts aboard the station and docked shuttle Discovery kept all eyes on the two expansive solar arrays as they were remotely deployed from a console inside the orbiting lab. After just over two hours of work, Discovery skipper Lee Archambault radioed Mission Control that both wings were fully extended and looking good.

?Tremendous news! Great work guys,? Mission Control called back. ?You?ve got a whole bunch of happy people down here as well.?

?We?re very happy as well,? Archambault said. ?Full power!?

Each of the new 115-foot (35-meter) wings unfolded gracefully, with none of the potentially damaging glitches that have plagued past array deployments. Astronauts unfolded new arrays in stages, allowing them to warm in the sun to reduce the stickiness.

As the wings hit full extension, the tense mood of Mission Control eased considerably as flight controllers erupted into applause, station flight director Kwatsi Alibaruho told reporters late Friday. He received messages that some engineers shed tears of joy.

?We were literally on pins and needles,? Alibaruho said. ?It was just really like a great weight lifted.? ?

The new $298 million solar arrays during a Thursday spacewalk, when astronauts moored the massive 16-ton girder supporting the new wings to the starboard-most side of the orbiting laboratory. By the end of today?s deployment, all eight of the space station?s solar wings - four on each side - were unfurled, completing construction on the outpost?s 335-foot (102-meter) backbone. They represent the last major U.S.-built piece of the space station. The first piece of the space station launched in 1998, with its first backbone segment lifting off two years later.

?It was absolutely beautiful,? station commander Michael Fincke said in a televised interview, adding that there was a ?shout of triumph? as the wings unfurled.

The astronauts aboard Discovery and the station are now preparing for the second spacewalk of their mission, set for Saturday, to upgrade systems outside the outpost.

Space station power play

The new solar arrays are vital since they will complete the station's power grid, boosting the current system by 25 percent. In all, the station is designed use all four sets of solar wings to produce enough electricity to power 42 houses on Earth, NASA has said.

Astronauts and scientists are counting on that power supply so they can ramp up science operations and double the station's crew size up to six people in late May. This last set of solar wings should generate about 36 kilowatts total, 15 kilowatts of which is reserved for science. It should double the current science power supply, mission managers said.

Astronauts also made repairs to the outpost's urine recycling system inside the orbital lab. The spaceflyers will install a new centrifuge to distill urine back into drinking water. The system is part of a larger water recycler that converts urine, astronaut sweat and condensation back into pure water for drinking, food preparation and bathing.

Discovery launched toward the station late Sunday on a 13-day mission to swap out a member of the outpost's crew and deliver the new solar arrays truss. Two of the mission's three spacewalks remain. Four were originally planned, but NASA trimmed the flight due to launch delays in order to complete the construction work and depart the station before the launch of a previously scheduled Russian Soyuz spacecraft next week.

Discovery is set to undock from the station on Wednesday and land on March 28.

SPACE.com is providing continuous coverage of STS-119 with reporter Clara Moskowitz and senior editor Tariq Malik in New York. Click here for mission updates and SPACE.com's live NASA TV video feed.

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