Spacewalkers to Repair Shuttle Blanket, Wrangle Solar Wing

Spacewalkers to Repair Shuttle Blanket, Wrangle Solar Wing
A view of the damaged shuttle blanket on the Atlantis orbiter's left Orbital Manuevering System pod during the STS-117 mission. (Image credit: NASA.)

HOUSTON --Two spacewalking astronauts will staple a space blanket and help fold astubborn solar array Friday to repair part of the Atlantis orbiter and prime aspace station power truss for relocation.

Atlantis astronautsJim Reilly II and Danny Olivas are due to step outside the International SpaceStation (ISS) at 1:38 p.m. EDT (1738 GMT) today on a spacewalk primarily aimedat securing a tornheat shield blanket on the space shuttle Atlantis and forcing an old solararray into its storage boxes at the pinnacle of the orbital laboratory.

“We are setto go tomorrow,” Reilly told Mission Control late Thursday.

Reilly andOlivas are slated to spend more than six hours working outside the ISS on whatwill be the third spacewalk of NASA’s STS-117 shuttle mission aboard Atlantis.Commanded by veteran spaceflyer Rick Sturckow, the shuttle’s seven-astronautcrew has delivered a new crewmember, starboard trusses and two expansive newsolar arrays to the ISS during their planned 13-day mission.

Aboard thespace station, the three-astronaut crew of Expedition 15 will spend much of theearly part of Friday working with Russian flight controllers in work aimed at recoveringa critical set of computers responsible for Russian segment ISS systems.

Shuttleblanket surgery

First upfor Olivas will be the shuttle blanket repair, an ad hoc heat shield fix requiringthe use of medical staplers, a dental tool and wire pins.

The 4-inchby 6-inch (10-centimeter by 15-centimeter) triangular flap of a protectiveblanket on Atlantis’ left Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS) tore loose duringAtlantis’ June 8 launch.

While not arisk to the shuttle crew, the tear did expose a section of the OMS pod’sinternal structure prompting concerns that it could be damaged during reentryand require a lengthy repair back on Earth that could be avoided.

From aperch at the tipof Atlantis’ robotic arm, Olivas is expected to pat down the upliftedblanket, secure it to an adjacent blanket with two rows of medical staples, andthen anchor it into nearby heat-resistant tiles by using the dental tool topoke holes for the pins.

“We feelthat’ll be a great repair and bring Atlantis home safely,” STS-117 mission specialistPatrick Forrester told the television station KUSA TV Thursday on NASATV.

WhileOlivas repairs the blanket, Reilly will install a vent valve for a U.S. oxygengenerator to NASA’s Destiny laboratory at the ISS.

Moresolar array retraction

The bulk oftoday’s spacewalk is reserved for the space station’s starboard-reaching solarwing extending from the top of the outpost’s mast-like Port 6 (P6) truss.

For thethird day in a row, astronauts will work in concert to try and retract therecalcitrant array.

Atlantisastronauts Patrick Forrester and Steven Swanson poked and prodded snagged areason the 115-foot (35-meter) array to clear it for retraction duringa Wednesday spacewalk, but fell short of a full furling. Attempts to reelin the array via remote also made some progress, though jammed grommets held itfast at about halfway retracted.

Like Forresterand Swanson, Reilly and Olivas will carry orange tape-wrapped tools - includingan L-shaped piece dubbed the “hockey stick” - to nudge the array’s individual pleatsto ensure they fold away properly.

Because theP6 array, known as P6-2B, initially crossed over the new starboard solar arrays,it had to be retracted clear of them so those new solar wings could rotate and trackthe Sun. Atlantis crew reached that benchmark on Wednesday, but now must furlthe array completely so the P6 truss can be relocated to its final position atthe end of the station’s portside in a later shuttle flight.

“The wholeteam comes together for our third spacewalk,” Sturckow said Thursday. “We’re expectingbig things tomorrow.”

NASA is broadcastingthe space shuttle Atlantis' STS-117 mission live on NASA TV. Click here for mission updates's video feed.

  • 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 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.