Astronauts go on clumsy spacewalk to reroute cables


After a clumsy start, two spacewalking astronauts successfully rerouted cables early Sunday on the outside of the international space station, their new home.

The excursion by Jim Voss and Susan Helms began shortly after midnight Saturday, less than 24 hours after space shuttle Discovery delivered them to space station Alpha. Their arrival was celebrated with handshakes, bear hugs and somersaults, and set in motion the crucial exchange of crews.

Helms’ first words outside were “Uh, oh.” A plastic bag holding a hydrazine-detection kit was drifting away, after breaking loose from Discovery. Voss tried to grab the bag, but it was just outside his reach so he got a quick lift on the shuttle robot arm.

“I’ve got it!” Voss exclaimed.

Minutes later, Voss accidentally let go of a portable attachment device needed for a work platform. That piece got away and became a piece of space junk. His shuttle crewmates told him not to worry about it and that a spare was available.

Voss paused in front of a space station porthole as he moved up to a docking port to disconnect a series of cables.

“Tell the station guys I’m at their window,” Voss called out. “No one’s home. Where’s my commander Yuri?” The two Russian Yuris were the first to swap places aboard the shuttle and station on Saturday.

Yuri Usachev moved into Alpha, and station resident Yuri Gidzenko took the vacated spot aboard Discovery.

Americans Voss and Helms had to perform their spacewalk before joining Usachev over on the station for a four-month stay. They had trouble rerouting some of the cables on the docking port, which needed to be moved to make room for the Leonardo cargo carrier that was ferried up aboard Discovery. Voss had to exert extra force on the more stubborn connectors.

Their other spacewalking chores involved installing gear in advance of next month’s delivery of the station’s robotic arm.

NASA had hoped the spacewalk would go better than Saturday morning’s docking, which was accompanied by a pair of vexing problems.

The linkup was delayed one hour when one of Alpha’s two giant solar wings would not lock into place, apparently because of a bad latch motor. It was the first stalled rendezvous in eight shuttle station hookups.

Flight controllers eventually locked the solar wing in place by using another latch, but then a problem at the White Sands, New Mexico, relay station prevented Mission Control and the shuttle astronauts from talking to one another immediately following the docking. Station commander Bill Shepherd passed along messages until communication was restored.

The trouble was soon forgotten as the hatches swung open and the two crews — seven aboard Discovery and three aboard Alpha — greeted one another.

“Mission accomplished,” said a relieved John Shannon, the lead flight director.

It was the biggest crowd ever aboard the international space station. But it did not look crowded as the seven Americans and three Russians floated inside the spacious Destiny laboratory, snapping pictures of one another and admiring the view out the porthole.

“Welcome to Yuri, Susan and Jim in their new home,” Mission Control called up.

Shepherd, as commander, will be the last member of the space station’s Expedition 1 crew to move out. NASA wants him to have as much time as possible with Usachev, his successor, before the shuttle departs next Saturday for the ride back to Earth. Saturday was Space Day 130 for Shepherd, Gidzenko and their Russian crewmate Sergei Krikalev. They arrived at the space station as its first crew on Nov. 2 following a launch two days earlier from Kazakstan.

Usachev, Voss and Helms will remain aboard the space station until late July. They’re already familiar with half the station; they briefly visited the orbiting complex last spring, when it was just two rooms. Now there are four rooms.