Mission Atlantis: Astronauts to Rehearse Shuttle Fix, Stow Solar Array

Mission Atlantis: Astronauts to Rehearse Shuttle Fix, Stow Solar Array
STS-117 astronauts Jim Reilly and Danny Olivas (visible in Reilly's helmet reflections) participate in their mission's first spacewalk. They will perform a shuttle blanket fix and help stow an ISS solar array on a June 15, 2007 spacewalk. (Image credit: NASA.)

HOUSTON --Astronauts aboard NASA’s shuttle Atlantis will rehearse a unique heat shieldrepair plan Thursday as they continue efforts to retract an older solar array outsidethe International Space Station (ISS).

SpacewalkersJim Reilly II and Danny Olivas will go over plans to use a medical stapler, dentaltool and Atlantis’ heat shield repair kit to securea loose blanket on one of their shuttle’s aft engines.

“What thecrew will be doing tomorrow, primarily, is getting prepared for that (extravehicular activity),” NASA’sISS flight director Kelly Beck told reporters here at the Johnson Space Center lateWednesday after mission managers added the repair to Friday's planned spacewalk.

Reilly and Olivas willrehearse different ways of using staplers from the medical kits aboard Atlantis and the ISS tostaple a 4-inch by 6-inch (10-centimeter by 15-centimeter) triangularblanket flap back into place on the shuttle’s left Orbital ManeuveringSystem (OMS) pod. Aerodynamic loads on the flap freed it from its mount duringthe shuttle’s June 8th launch, NASA has said.

Beck saidthe shuttle crew will also participate in additional work to remotely pack awayan old U.S. solar array, which sits nearly half-furled at the top of theorbital laboratory’s Port 6 truss after retraction efforts duringa Wednesday spacewalk. The outpost’s three-astronaut Expedition 15 crew,meanwhile, is expected to continuetroubleshooting efforts with Russian ISS engineers to recover a series ofvital navigation and command and control computers inside the station’s Russiansegment.


While Atlantis’damaged thermal blanket does not pose a risk to its astronaut crew for landing,there is a possibility that it could lead to damage to the OMS pod’s underlyingstructure and prompt lengthy repairs, NASA has said.

Currentplans call for a spacewalker to first pat the flap down flat with either hishand or a scraper-like tool originally designed to repair Atlantis’heat-resistant tiles and carbon composite panels, mission managers said.

“Theseblankets are very formable,” said John Shannon, NASA’s deputy shuttle programmanager, late Wednesday. “It will take the shape that you put it in and willstay there.”

Next, therepair requires a double row of staples using the medical staplers along the tear’s edges, andfinishes with the use of a dental tool and stiff nickel chromium pins to securethe torn blanket and part of an adjacent one into nearby tiles, Shannon said. The crew will take six staplers with them, each with 15 staples.

“The teamwas very confident that the staples with the pins would meet our objectives,” headded.

As abackup repair, Reilly and Olivas will also practice a bit of orbitalsewing using stainless steel wire for thread and a spacesuitdarning needle.

“I thinkthe likelihood of actually having to use this is extremely low,” Shannon saidof the backup sewing method.

NASA isbroadcasting the space shuttle Atlantis' STS-117 mission live on NASA TV. Click here for mission updates andSPACE.com's video feed.

  • SPACE.com Video Interplayer: Space Station Power Up with STS-117
  • STS-117 Power Play: Atlantis Shuttle Crew to Deliver ISS Solar Wings
  • Complete Shuttle Mission Coverage

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of Space.com 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 Space.com's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining Space.com, 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 Space.com 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.