Atlantis astronauts plan 1st spacewalk
"If we do have damage to the glove, it will help us detect where on the vehicle we have a sharp edge," Kirk Shireman, deputy program manager of the international space station, said Sunday. Reilly and Olivas plan to connect a new, 35,000-pound segment to the space station and remove bolts and restraints that hold in place a solar array, also a part of the segment, to be unfolded later in the mission. The new solar array will add about 14 kilowatts of power-generating capability to the station.
Reilly has gone on three previous spacewalks and Olivas is going on his first. While Reilly and Olivas are working as space electricians, engineers in Houston 220 miles below will evaluate whether a peeled-back thermal blanket on Atlantis should be fixed by astronauts. The loosened blanket, covering a 4-inch-by 6-inch area over a pod for engines, was discovered during an inspection of the space shuttle on Saturday.
A decision likely will be made in the next day or two, and if the answer is to fix it, another decision will be made on whether it will be done during one of three scheduled spacewalks or during an extra, unplanned one. "I'm leaning, maybe, a little bit toward doing it," said John Shannon, chairman of the mission management team. Engineers who had studied past damage to the blanket area on other shuttle missions were uncomfortable with the safety margins of a piece of the blanket sticking out during re-entry into Earth's atmosphere.
Temperatures on the shuttle's heat shield can reach as high as 2,900 degree Fahrenheit during re-entry, although the heat on the blanket's location during re-entry only reaches 700 degrees to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. "The concern is that if it sticks up, you get additional heating," Shannon said.
Engineers didn't think heat could burn through the graphite structure underneath the blanket, but they were worried it might cause some damage that would require repairs on the ground. The rest of the vehicle appeared to be in fine shape, NASA said.
Atlantis docked with the space station on Sunday, and the crews of both spacecraft greeted each other with hugs and handshakes. Prior to docking, astronauts inside the space station took photographs of the shuttle's belly when Atlantis was 600 feet below the orbiting outpost. Nothing "jumped out at us" during a review of the photos, Shannon said, although there did appear to be a few pieces of gap filler sticking out. Gap filler is material fitted between thermal tiles to prevent them from rubbing against each other.
U.S. astronauts Sunita Williams and Clayton Anderson traded out seatliners on the Russian emergency vehicle attached to the station. The seatliner exchange marked the official replacement of Williams by Anderson as a space station resident. Williams will return to Earth aboard Atlantis after more than six months in space.
Anderson, who will spend four months at the station, appeared to be getting his bearings in his new home when Mission Control asked him how he was doing via radio. "Aside from the fact that I don't know where anything is or how to do anything, I'm OK," he said.