At Mission Control, ISS Spacewalk an 'Emotional Rollercoaster'

Astronauts Successfully Furl ISS Solar Wing in Extra Spacewalk
STS-116 mission specialist Robert Curbeam works with a solar array during the fourth spacewalk of the STS-116 mission. (Image credit: NASA TV.)

HOUSTON --A unplannedspacewalk by two shuttleastronauts to force stubbornsolar array into submission atop the International SpaceStation (ISS) Monday made for high drama at NASA's Mission Control here atthe Johnson Space Center.

"'Wow,' isabout the only thing I can say," Kirk Shireman, NASA's ISS deputy program manager,said late Monday after the spacewalk'ssuccess. "It was really an emotional rollercoaster today."

EuropeanSpace Agency astronaut ChristerFuglesang and veteran NASA spaceflyer RobertCurbeam shook, poked, prodded and coaxed a reluctant solar array into itsstorage boxes on the station's six-year-oldPort 6 truss during six hours and 38 minutes of orbital work [image].They worked in concert with flight controllers and their crewmates aboard theISS and docked shuttle Discovery.

Snagsbetween the array's guide wires and metal grommets, or eyelets, called forCurbeam to employ mostly improvised tools: a scraper designed to repair shuttleheat shields, extension bars for loosening sticky ISS bolts and others, all ofwhich were covered in orange tape to ward off arcs of electricity -- a hazardwhen working near the solar wings, NASA said [image1, image2].

"Beamer hadus on the edge of our seats," Tricia Mack, NASA's lead spacewalk officer forthe astronaut's STS-116mission aboard Discovery, told reporters of Curbeam after the spacewalk.

NASAengineers expected some solar array guide wires to stick, but they didn'texpect it to billow out in loose loops when Curbeam plucked on it to freegrommets.

"There wasa groan, I think people heard that all over the building," Shireman said.

After somediscussion in space and on Earth, Curbeam tugged a bit more on the line and it retractedback onto its spool.

Mack saidCurbeam, known for keeping a cool head and his quick reaction times, did not disappoint.He even set a newrecord for the number of spacewalks -- four -- performed by a shuttle astronautduring an orbiter flight, she added.

Curbeamalso jumped from 13th to fifth on the list of all-time spacewalkersduring the latest orbital work, NASA officials said.

"We werealso extremely entertained with Christer using the shake method and counting invarious languages," Mack said.

During thespacewalk, Fuglesang counted in a variety of languages aside from English --Spanish and French to name a few -- as he shook the balky solar array.

At onepoint, when again asked to shake the solar wing, he mentioned he had run out oflanguages. But despite the levity, both spacewalkers were on task, missionmanagers said.

Monday'sspacewalk marked the fourth and last for NASA's STS-116mission aboard the Discovery orbiter and capped a week of ISSconstruction and crew change. The shuttle crew is slated to undock aboardDiscovery at 5:09 p.m. EST (2209 GMT) today.

"What aday," Shireman said.

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.