Astronauts make last spacewalk of shuttle era
Cape Canaveral: A pair of astronauts ventured out on the last spacewalk of NASA`s space shuttle era Tuesday to retrieve a broken pump from the International Space Station and install a fill-er-up experiment for a robot.
The space station`s two-armed robot Dextre won`t tackle the USD 22.6 million playset, a fancy Fisher-Price toy as one astronaut describes it, until long after Atlantis departs and the shuttle programme ends.
But perhaps more than anything else on this final journey by a shuttle, the robotic demo illustrates the possibilities ahead for NASA: satellite-refueling stations in space run by robots.
In a departure from previous shuttle visits, the spacewalking job fell to space station astronauts, Michael Fossum and Ronald Garan Jr, who teamed up for three spacewalks in 2008.
The four-person Atlantis crew is the smallest in decades, and so the lone spacewalk of the mission was handed over to the full-time station residents.
It was the 160th spacewalk in the 12 1/2-year life of the orbiting outpost, and the last one planned for Americans for nearly a year.
"Are you ready to rock `n` roll?" Fossum asked Garan. "Let`s go, buddy."
They paused to admire the view as the linked craft soared above the Kennedy Space Center, from which Atlantis departed last Friday on the very last shuttle flight.
"Hello Kennedy, beautiful launch," Fossum called out. Then Fossum and Garan headed to a storage platform holding the old, broken pump.
The ammonia coolant pump stopped working last July and, for more than two weeks, left the space station with only half its cooling capability.
Space station residents had to perform three emergency spacewalks last summer to replace the pump and restore full cooling to all the on-board equipment.
NASA wants the pump brought back to Earth aboard Atlantis so engineers can figure out why it stopped working to help them keep the on-board station pumps running. The space station is intended to operate until at least 2020.
The newly delivered robotic experiment, meanwhile, consists of a big box holding four customized tools, including a wire cutter and a safety cap removal device, as well as an assortment of knobs, caps, valves and a half gallon of ethanol.
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