Astronauts Gear Up for First Spacewalk

Sunday, July 19th 2009, 9:08 am
By: News 9

(CBS)  Astronauts David Wolf and Timothy Kopra are preparing for a spacewalk today, the first of five planned by the Endeavour astronauts, to ready an experiment platform for attachment to the Japanese Kibo laboratory module.

NASA's ongoing inspection and analysis of Endeavour's heat shield is not yet complete, but after studying photographs of the shuttle's belly that were snapped by the space station crew during Endeavour's approach Friday, engineers concluded no major damage was present and an additional "focused" inspection will not be needed.

The astronauts were awakened at 7:03 a.m. today by a recording of Marc Broussard's "Home" beamed up from mission control.

"Good morning, Endeavour. Good morning, Dave," astronaut Shannon Lucid called from Houston.

"Take me home!" Wolf sang back. "Good morning, Shannon."

"Have a great EVA today," Lucid said.

"It's going to be something," Wolf replied. "This will be a heck of a day of teamwork between robots and people in space and all over the world. I'm looking forward to this! ... All's well in the airlock. We're up and cleaned up pretty good and things are moving along nicely and on time."

The spacewalk is scheduled to begin around 11:58 a.m. EDT. For identification, Wolf (call sign EV-1) will be wearing a spacesuit with red stripes around the legs. Kopra (EV-2) will be wearing an unmarked suit.

This will be the 126th spacewalk devoted to station assembly and maintenance since construction began in 1998, the seventh so far this year and the first of five planned by Endeavour's crew. It will be the fifth spacewalk for Wolf and the first for Kopra.

The primary goals of today's excursion are to prepare the 4.1-ton Japanese Exposed Facility, or JEF, for attachment to the Kibo module; to make preparations for the eventual arrival of a Japanese cargo ship; to perform maintenance on an external equipment cart; and to deploy a jammed spare parts mount on the station's solar array truss.

"The complexity is not just from EVA. It's doing the EVA and robotics and the other internal transfer work that we have planned, all at once in a very complex choreography," Wolf said before launch. "It is busy, it is a sprint race for us and it's very interactive, it takes everyone (of the astronauts), mission control and the engineering teams to be with it real time, tracking as we go, to pull this off."

The Japanese Kibo laboratory is made up of two modules, a roomy central lab and an attached logistics module. The main Japanese lab module is equipped with its own airlock and its own robot arm to move experiments out to the exposed facility and back inside as needed. Experiment packages launched aboard Endeavour will be attached to the JEF later in the mission.

"The Japanese Exposed Facility, or JEF as we tend to call it, is very impressive," Wolf said in a NASA interview. "It's a large external porch to the space station where high quality experiments can be conducted in the high vacuum of space. It's really an exceptionally valuable piece of real estate. It has its own robotic arm, the ability to do observations of the Earth and of the sky, astrophysics experiments, a very wide range of abilities."

After Wolf and Kopra prep the experiment platform, Koichi Wakata and shuttle pilot Douglas Hurley, operating the space station's robot arm, will pull it from Endeavour's cargo bay and hand it off to the shuttle arm, operated by Canadian astronaut Julie Payette. After moving to work site six on the station's solar power truss, the station arm will re-grapple the JEF and move it into position for attachment to Kibo. Flight controllers in Japan then will carry out the necessary activations.

"The highest priority item is to get the Japanese Exposed Facility, the JEF, out of the payload bay and that requires that the spacewalking crew disconnect umbilicals that are powering the payload now," said space station Flight Director Hal Getzelman. "So they'll spend about the first two hours of the EVA configuring the Japanese Exposed Facility for release from the payload bay.

"Then the spacewalking crew goes off to do other tasks on other parts of the station while the crew inside the space station uses both the shuttle robotic arm and the station's robotic arm in a series of handoffs to connect the Japanese Exposed Facility to the Kibo module."

The actual connection of the exposed facility is done robotically.

"In the case of U.S. modules, additional spacewalking activities are required to connect power, data and thermal umbilicals," Getzelman said. "In the case of the JEF, it's all robotic. Basically, the crew plugs it in with the robotic arm and those power and data and thermal connections are made automatically. Once those connections are made, later in the day the crew inside the space station works in concert with the flight control team in Japan to actually activate the Japanese Exposed Facility."

(By CBS News space analyst Bill Harwood)