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Spacewalking astronauts encounter bolt trouble

This image taken from NASA television shows astronauts Andrew Feustel, top, and Mike Fincke leave an International Space Station hatch Sunday to begin their space walk.

Associated Press

This image taken from NASA television shows astronauts Andrew Feustel, top, and Mike Fincke leave an International Space Station hatch Sunday to begin their space walk.

CAPE CANAVERAL — A spacewalking astronaut ran into trouble Sunday while trying to lubricate a joint in the life-sustaining solar power system of the International Space Station, losing one bolt and getting a washer stuck in a crevice.

Mike Fincke, one of NASA's most experienced spacewalkers, had to settle for a partial lube job, after the bolts holding down covers on the massive joint started popping off unexpectedly.

"Bummer," said his spacewalking partner, Andrew Feustel.

The two men went into overtime, though, to do what they could. They managed to lubricate four sections of the joint, two fewer than planned, and reinstall three covers. The fourth cover was brought back inside because of all the loose bolts.

Their space walk — the second of four planned for shuttle Endeavour's final space station visit — went 1½ hours longer than planned. It lasted more than eight hours and set the record for the sixth-longest in history.

"You guys earned your pay for the day," astronaut Gregory Chamitoff radioed from inside. The spacewalkers joked about getting paid, saying their reward was being outside watching the world spin by.

This is the next-to-last shuttle mission and these are the final scheduled space walks of the program, meant to leave the space station in the best condition possible for the next decade. The 30-year shuttle era will end in July with the flight of Atlantis.

Today, three of the six space station residents will head home in their Russian Soyuz capsule after a five-month mission. In a unique photo opportunity, the departing crew will photograph Endeavour parked at the space station.

Then on Wednesday, Fincke and Feustel will venture back out for space walk No. 3.

Endeavour, under the command of Mark Kelly, husband of wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, will remain at the orbiting outpost for another week. Landing is scheduled for June 1.

Spacewalking astronauts encounter bolt trouble 05/22/11 [Last modified: Sunday, May 22, 2011 11:14pm]

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