Astronauts tackle repairs


CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Astronauts removed an old space station pump Saturday, sailing through the first of a series of urgent repair spacewalks to revive a crippled cooling line.

The two Americans on the crew, Rick Mastracchio and Michael Hopkins, successfully pulled out the ammonia pump with a bad valve — well ahead of schedule. That task was planned for the next spacewalk Monday.

“An early Christmas,” observed Mission Control as Mastracchio tugged the refrigerator-size pump away from its nesting spot.

If Mastracchio and Hopkins keep up the quick work, two spacewalks might be enough to complete the installation of a spare pump and a third spacewalk will not be needed on Christmas Day as originally anticipated.

The breakdown 10 days earlier left one of two identical cooling loops too cold and forced the astronauts to turn off all nonessential equipment inside the orbiting lab, bringing scientific research to a near-halt and leaving the station in a vulnerable state.

Mission Control wanted to keep the spacewalkers out even longer Saturday to get even further ahead, but a cold and uncomfortable Mastracchio requested to go back. The spacewalk ended after 5 1/2 hours, an hour short on time but satisfyingly long on content.

Earlier, Mastracchio managed to unhook all the ammonia fluid and electrical lines on the pump with relative ease, occasionally releasing a flurry of frozen ammonia flakes that brushed against his suit. A small O-ring floated away, but he managed to retrieve it.

“I got it, I got it, I got it. Barely,” Mastracchio said as he stretched out his hand.

“Don’t let that go, that’s a stocking stuffer,” Mission Control replied.

“Don’t tell my wife,” Mastracchio said, chuckling, as he put it in a small pouch for trash.

 

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