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Replacing station battery takes some elbow grease

Space shuttle Atlantis' astronauts plugged four fresh batteries into the international space station on Wednesday, a job that required a hammer, chisel and brute force.

"The crew did a little bit of garage work," said flight director Mark Ferring.

American Daniel Burbank and Russian Boris Morukov could not remove a bracket in the floor of the Russian module Zarya to get at a battery component, because of interfering nut plates. To their surprise, the plates were riveted down.

The crew conferred with Mission Control in Houston, which conferred with Mission Control outside Moscow. The consensus: Go with the old-fashioned method.

Burbank held the chisel while Morukov, bracing himself to get some leverage in the weightlessness of space, pounded it with the hammer.

"We proceeded to go whack at that a couple times and we got the nut plates off," Ferring said.

The aging battery was removed in the 2-year-old Zarya module, and a new one was installed.

In May, shuttle astronauts replaced four other batteries inside Zarya that had weakened apparently because of careless overcharging by Russian flight controllers.

Next door in the new Zvezda control module, meanwhile, American Edward Lu and Russian Yuri Malenchenko had no trouble putting in three new batteries.

Zvezda, the living quarters once the first full-time crew arrives in November, was so heavy that the Russians had to strip it for its July launch. As a result, it flew with only five of eight batteries. Putting in the three remaining batteries brought Zvezda up to full power.

"It's really beautiful," shuttle commander Terrence Wilcutt said in a TV interview. "Lots of room, lots of equipment and eventually, of course, we'll have a nice laboratory up here, too. About any astronaut I know would be happy to spend time up here."

The astronauts had one more battery to install inside Zarya. Other work planned for today: putting in the tank for the toilet aboard Zvezda, hooking up a commode hose and hauling more supplies into the outpost.