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4th spacewalk wraps up Discovery's to-do list

December 19, 2006|From the Associated Press

HOUSTON — Two spacewalking astronauts finished folding up a stubborn, accordion-like solar array Monday, resolving the only complication in space shuttle Discovery's otherwise smooth mission to the International Space Station.

Shuttle astronauts Robert Curbeam and Christer Fuglesang managed to get the last section of the 115-foot array folded into a box about five hours into the spacewalk. It was the fourth venture outside for Discovery's astronauts during their visit to the orbiting outpost.

Mission Control workers applauded when the final section fell into the box. But Curbeam radioed back that a wire was still loose. About 30 minutes later, he managed to get it rolled up and the box latched.

"Great job by everybody up there and everyone on the ground here," Mission Control said.

The impromptu spacewalk forced NASA to delay Discovery's return home by a day to Friday.

The electricity-generating array became stuck Wednesday in the half-retracted position as it was being folded up by remote control. After repeated efforts to get it to retract, NASA decided to send two cosmic mechanics out to fix it.

It was Curbeam's fourth spacewalk of the mission, the most by any astronaut during a single shuttle flight.

The array was part of the space station's temporary power source. The space agency had to retract it to make room for a newly installed array that will be part of the space station's permanent power source.

The array posed no danger in the half-retracted position. But another array on the station is scheduled to be retracted on a future mission. Therefore, NASA used this opportunity to learn how to troubleshoot such a problem.

The astronauts, on course for a 13-day mission, have completed their main tasks: rewiring the station; installing a 2-ton, $11-million addition to the orbiting space lab; and replacing space station crew member Thomas Reiter of Germany with American astronaut Sunita Williams, who will spend the next six months in orbit.

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