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Shuttle Mission Extended For Repair Job

NASA has added two days to the shuttle Atlantis's mission so that astronauts can repair a damaged thermal blanket on the vessel's exterior, the US space agency said late Monday. The decision to add a fourth space walk to the Atlantis crew's schedule to fix the thermal blanket will mean a mission of 13 days in space rather than the originally planned 11 days, said John Shannon, head of the mission management team at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Two days were added to the trip so that the crew can repair a section of the ship's thermal insulation which peeled back on launch Friday, opening up a gap of several inches. NASA has played down concerns over the damage to Atlantis. Shannon earlier said the damage is in a spot not exposed to the highest heat as the shuttle breaks through Earth's atmosphere.

This NASA TV image obtained 10 June, 2007 shows a tear in the thermal blanket on the space shuttle Atlantis. Astronauts inspected the outside of space shuttle for any damage 09 June 2007 and discovered the four-inch (10.16cm) tear in some of the protective heat resistant material near the tail of Atlantis. That area covers the top surface of the pod that contains some of Atlantis's engines used to steer in space. NASA has added two days to the shuttle Atlantis's mission so that astronauts can repair a damaged thermal blanket on the vessel's exterior, the US space agency said late 11 June, 2007.The decision to add a fourth space walk to the Atlantis crew's schedule to fix the thermal blanket will mean a mission of 13 days in space rather than the originally planned 11 days, said John Shannon, head of the mission management team at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Jean-Louis Santini
Washington (AFP) June 12, 2007
The International Space Station Tuesday spread its new solar wings after astronauts of the US shuttle Atlantis wired them up during a space walk, television pictures broadcast by NASA showed.

The vast panels, which will help boost the power-generating capacity of the station (ISS) so it can host new modules from Europe and Japan, were put in place by the ISS's robotic arm and connected by the two space walkers Monday.

The accordion-shaped installations, brought in the hold of Atlantis to the station hundreds of miles above the Earth, then finished their slow, delicate unfurling on Tuesday at 3:00 pm (1900 GMT), the US space agency (NASA) said.

With the 73-meter-wide (240-foot), 16-tonne section holding the solar arrays in operation after the space walkers activated its electrical connections, the visiting astronauts were looking ahead for their next space walk on Wednesday.

Mission specialists Patrick Forrester and Steven Swanson are due step out at 1803 GMT Wednesday on the second of the mission's four space walks.

NASA said Monday it would add two days to Atlantis's mission so that astronauts can repair a thermal blanket on the vessel's exterior, which was damaged by the extreme air pressure of blasting through Earth's atmosphere.

It raised fears that graphite structures underneath the blanket would be damaged when the shuttle powers back to Earth.

John Shannon, head of the NASA mission management team, said the repair would be simple and quick.

NASA has played down concerns over the damage since it was noticed after Friday's take-off. Shannon earlier said the tear is in a spot not exposed to the highest heat as the shuttle breaks through Earth's atmosphere.

Such damage is a concern after the Columbia shuttle disintegrated as it returned to Earth in February 2003. This was due to breaks in its heat shield caused by foam insulation peeling off its fuel tank and striking a wing during the launch.

All seven astronauts aboard perished and the shuttle program was put on hold for nearly two and a half years while the space agency sought to overcome the problem, modifying the external fuel tank and setting procedures to check the heat shield while in orbit.

Adding a fourth space walk to the Atlantis crew's schedule to fix the thermal blanket will mean a mission of 13 days in space rather than the originally planned 11. It will return to its station in Florida on June 21.

The new solar arrays will dramatically increase ISS power generation to a potential 14 kilowatts to help serve planned science modules from the European and Japanese space agencies.

On Wednesday, the astronauts aim to fold up another, older solar array to be installed at a different part of the station on a shuttle future mission. Its removal will allow the new array to rotate, to catch a maximum of sun rays.

The Atlantis mission is the first this year. An earlier launch planned for March was scrubbed after the spacecraft was damaged by hail in a freak storm in February.

The ISS is a key stepping stone for preparing manned missions to Mars. NASA plans at least 12 more shuttle missions to finish the 100-billion-dollar station by 2010, when the agency retires its three-shuttle fleet, plus one voyage to the Hubble space telescope.

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Astronauts Prepare For EVA Following Docking
Washington (AFP) Jun 11, 2007
The US shuttle Atlantis docked with the International Space Station Sunday, performing a dramatic backward somersault in space before locking on, in its mission to deliver equipment and a new crew member. Shuttle commander Rick Sturckow confirmed the successful docking to mission controllers in Houston, Texas in a broadcast by the space agency NASA, after a nearly 48-hour voyage from Earth.







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