Two spacewalkingastronauts ventured outside the International Space Station on Tuesday to installa new experiment and upgrade their orbital lab before houseguests arrive laterthis week.
Stationcommander Michael Fincke and flight engineer Yury Lonchakov spent nearly fivehours toiling outside their orbital home to ready the outpost forthe planned Friday arrival of seven astronauts aboard NASA?s shuttle Discovery.Discovery is poised to launch toward the station Wednesday night to delivera new station crewmember and U.S. solar arrays.
?That?s it,we?re done,? said Lonchakov, who led the spacewalk.?Everything is very good.?
Tuesday?sspacewalk began at 12:22 p.m. EDT (1622 GMT), just four days before Fincke?s 42ndbirthday on Saturday.
?This is agreat gift for my birthday,? Fincke said. Lonchakov celebrated his 44thbirthday aboard the space station last week.
Theirfellow station crewmate Sandra Magnus remained inside the station during the four-hour,49-minute spacewalk. She is preparing to return home later this month aboard Discoveryonce her replacement - Japaneseastronaut Koichi Wakata - arrives on the shuttle.
Spacestation clean up
The primarygoal for Fincke and Lonchakov was the installation of a joint European-Russian experimentcalled EXPOSE-R, which the astronauts were unable to activate during a Decemberspacewalk due to an internal cabling issue.
On Tuesday,they breezed through the experiment?s installation and Russian flightcontrollers successfully powered it up. The experiment will expose plant seeds,microbes and other organic and biological samples to the space environment forabout 18 months, NASA officials have said.
In additionto installing EXPOSE-R, the spacewalkers repositioned a Russian materials exposureexperiment and took photographs of about 28 different targets in a survey of thestation?s Russian segment. They also shortened six straps near a docking portto make sure they didn?t interfere with the arrival or departure of futurespacecraft.
?We?re goingto do it the old-fashioned way,? Fincke said before the spacewalk. ?Yury has aknife.?
Theastronauts took great care to avoid slashing open their own spacesuits whiletrimming the straps, and worked carefully to keep the snippets from driftingaway.
?We needthree hands each,? one of the spacewalkers said.
Tuesday?sspacewalk was the 120th dedicated to space station maintenance and the sixthcareer excursion for Fincke, who ended with 26 hours and 12 minutes of spacewalkingtime. It was the second spacewalk for Lonchakov, who ended with 10 hours and 27minutes.
Russian flightcontrollers told Fincke that, with six spacewalks in an Orlan spacesuit, he now appears to be theleader for Americans spacewalking in the Russian-built spacesuits.
Tuesday?s excursionsets the stage for four more spacewalks by Discovery?s STS-119 astronaut crew.The spacewalks are set to start on Sunday to install a new U.S. solar arrays andstarboard-side girder. Discovery is set tolaunch Wednesday night at 9:20 p.m. EDT (0120 March 12 GMT) from NASA?sKennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla.
Fincke andLonchakov said they missed lunch during their spacewalk, but gladly tradedtheir hunger for some fantastic views of Earth.
?There areno words in any language to describe what we?re seeing right now,? one of thespacewalkers said during a rest break. ?You see, our hard work has some positivemoments to it.?
SPACE.comis providing continuous coverage of Discovery?s STS-119 mission to the spacestation, with reporter Clara Moskowitz at Cape Canaveral and senior editorTariq Malik in New York. Clickhere for mission updates and SPACE.com's live NASA TV video feed.
- New Video - Discovery's Mission: Space Station Power Up!
- New Video - Meet Discovery's STS-119 Shuttle Astronauts
- Video - Space Station Acrobatics
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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.