'Endeavour' astronauts install new porch on space lab

CAPE CANAVERAL — Astronauts working inside and out installed a porch for experiments on Japan's enormous space station lab Saturday, accomplishing the major objective despite microphone static that often drowned out the spacewalkers' voices.

Veteran spaceman David Wolf and rookie Timothy Kopra could barely make themselves understood at times because of the loud static emanating from their helmet microphones.

"Dave, you're unreadable," astronaut Christopher Cassidy called from inside the shuttle-station complex.

Two hours later, it was no better. "It's hard to follow along with this comm," Cassidy said, looking for clarification on what the spacewalkers were doing. The trouble lasted the entire 5 1/2-hour space walk, the first of five planned during Endeavour's space station visit.

NASA officials said it was a nuisance but not a safety issue, and they hoped to resolve the problem before the next space walk on Monday.

Indeed, Wolf and Kopra wasted no time 220 miles up prepping the Kibo lab — Hope in Japanese — and the new porch for their mechanical hookup. Wolf removed an insulating cover from the lab and tossed it overboard; the white cover drifted away, flipping end over end.

The spacewalkers then moved on to other routine work at the International Space Station as their colleagues inside used the shuttle and station robot arms, one at a time, to lift the Japanese porch from Endeavour's payload bay and hoist it toward the Kibo lab. The space walk was over by the time the porch was finally latched in place.

It marked the completion of Japan's $1 billion lab, so big that it required three shuttle flights to launch everything.

Mission Control's congratulations to Wolf and Kopra, as they headed back inside, could hardly be heard because of the static. In the end, the two fell behind and had to skip some chores. They freed a platform for spare parts that jammed months ago, using a specially designed tool.

Earlier Saturday, Mission Control had both good and bad news for the astronauts

The good: Endeavour looks to be in fine shape for re-entry at the end of the month, although a review of shuttle photos and other data continues.

The bad: The astronauts were informed of Walter Cronkite's death. Mission Control relayed statements by former astronaut Neil Armstrong and NASA's new chief, ex-astronaut Charles Bolden, both of whom noted Cronkite's passion for human space exploration.

'Endeavour' astronauts install new porch on space lab 07/18/09 [Last modified: Saturday, July 18, 2009 11:17pm]

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