Station crew takes spacewalk as shuttle nears launch
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: March 10, 2009;
Updated with EVA's official start time;
Updated @ 2:05 p.m. with EVA progress;
Updated @ 3 p.m. with EVA progress;
Updated @ 5:17 p.m. with EVA conclusion
The shuttle Discovery's countdown continues to tick smoothly toward launch Wednesday on a space station assembly mission, NASA officials said today. Liquid hydrogen and oxygen were loaded aboard the orbiter Monday evening to power the ship's electricity-producing fuel cells and engineers are on schedule prepping the shuttle for fueling and blastoff Wednesday at 9:20:10 p.m. EDT.
Aboard the space station, meanwhile, commander Mike Fincke and flight engineer Yury Lonchakov conducted a spacewalk this afternoon to mount a European experiment packaged on the hull of the Zvezda command module and to complete a variety of other tasks. Fincke and Lonchakov were unable to complete the experiment installation during their most recent previous spacewalk late last year.
Today's excursion began at 12:22 p.m. EDT when the spacewalkers, wearing Russian suits, opened the hatch of the Pirs docking and airlock module. Crewmate Sandra Magnus will monitor the spacewalk from inside the station.
For identification, Fincke, making his sixth spacewalk, was wearing a suit with red stripes and use the call sign EV-2. Lonchakov, making his second EVA, was wearing a suit with blue markings and use the call sign EV-1. No NASA helmet cameras were used during today's work.
Tasks successfully completed in today's spacewalk included:
The four-hour, 49-minute EVA ends at 5:11 p.m. EDT, nearly an hour ahead of schedule.
This was the 120th spacewalk devoted to station construction and maintenance since assembly began in 1998 and the first so far this year. Going into today's outing, more than 80 spacewalkers representing the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada, Germany, France and Sweden had logged 751 hours and seven minutes of EVA time.
To avoid conflict with an upcoming Russian mission to ferry a new crew to the station and return Fincke and Lonchakov to Earth, the docked phase of Discovery's mission must be finished by around March 26, the day the next crew is set for launch aboard a Soyuz spacecraft.
To carry out a full-duration four-spacewalk mission, the shuttle must get off the ground by March 13 at the latest. A launch as late as March 16 or 17 is possible, but mission managers would have to eliminate one or two planned spacewalks, along with crew off-duty time.
Complicating the picture, the Air Force plans to launch a sophisticated military communications satellite aboard an Atlas 5 rocket on March 14, with March 15 as a backup. While that flight presumably could slip a few days if NASA needed more time for Discovery, shuttle managers are hopeful it won't come to that.
NASA Test DIrector Steve Payne said launch preparations are on track with no technical problems of any significance at launch pad 39A.
"At this point, we have no real concerns," Payne said. "Our systems are in good shape, the countdown is proceeding on schedule like it should be and we are ready for the exciting mission that lies ahead of us Wednesday night."
Shuttle weather officer Kathy Winters said the forecast continues to call for a 90 percent chance of acceptable conditions Wednesday and Thursday, decreasing slightly to 80 percent "go" on Friday the 13th.
"The weather is looking very good for launch," Winters said. "And of course, there's going to be a full moon out so that's going to be a really nice view. Right now, it is looking like very favorable weather conditions for launch."