Spacewalk Finds Little Damage to Shuttle

Two astronauts aboard Discovery complete a seven-hour space walk, during which they tested tools aimed at repairing damage sustained by the orbiter during liftoff. NASA is adding a day to the mission.

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

NASA may have put a hold on future shuttle missions, but the current mission is going full tilt. In fact, mission managers have added an extra day in space for the shuttle Discovery and her crew. Today, as planned, two astronauts spent nearly seven hours on a space walk. NPR's Joe Palca was monitoring the EVA, or extravehicular activity, as it's known in NASA-speak, and he joins me now to talk about it.

Hi there, Joe.

JOE PALCA reporting:

Hi.

LYDEN: So what were they doing out there in outer space?

PALCA: Well, these astronauts--it's their first time in outer space outside of--I think the first thing they did was, `Wow, look where we are,' but really they spent quite a bit of time testing two new repair systems. You know, after the last accident, they said, `Well, what if something happens in orbit? What can we do to fix it?' So they're testing some new material so that they can patch holes in this special carbon fiber on the wings or patch the thermal tiles that protect the shuttle on re-entry.

LYDEN: And that took seven hours. Is that about what it took them?

PALCA: Well, it was--they had a few other things to do as well. They replaced an antenna on the space station that wasn't working properly and they also got power going back to another gyroscope that's important for keeping the Space Station stable in orbit. And they actually tried to get ahead a little bit on some of the tasks they have because they have two more space walks coming up and they want to add things to their activities on those later space walks in case they can get ahead because they know the shuttle might not be going back to the space station for a while.

LYDEN: The astronauts who stayed on board Discovery also spent some time continuing to hunt for any damage that the shuttle might have suffered on liftoff. Did they find any?

PALCA: No, they went back today and looked at some places along the wing that the NASA people who had analyzed the first set of data said, `We'd like for you to focus in on some of these other spots. Look again.' They do see some things, some differences that are different from background, but they don't see anything that they think would cause alarm at this point.

LYDEN: NASA has done something to brag about from the space science work that the agency supports this week.

PALCA: Yeah, it's a funny thing. NASA has had, I guess you'd have to say, a difficult week from the point of view of the human space flight because, you know, again they'd have to say, `Well, we thought we fixed this problem with the shuttle, but apparently we haven't,' and they've grounded the fleet indefinitely, although NASA managers are saying, `Maybe by the end of the year, maybe.' But all of a sudden, you know, here comes this space science thing that probably a tiny fraction of the amount of money and they're able to announce with great fanfare that they've found another planet in the solar system. Well, OK, so maybe it may not be big enough to be a planet but it's the biggest--it's bigger than Pluto and it's in the solar system, so people are pretty excited about that.

LYDEN: NPR science correspondent Joe Palca.

Thanks very much, Joe.

PALCA: You're welcome.

LYDEN: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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