Originally created 10/16/00

Astronauts wire up space station



CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- With a joyous whoop, two astronauts floated out of space shuttle Discovery on Sunday and hooked up cables and antennas on the newest addition of the international space station.

Spacewalkers Bill McArthur and Leroy Chiao spent six hours working on the aluminum framework that had been installed on the space station Saturday.

Their excitement streamed through the radio lines as they toiled 240 miles up.

"Woo-hoo!" they shouted again and again. They described the 140-foot space station towering out of Discovery's cargo bay as "huge" and "gorgeous."

"This is too cool," McArthur called down.

In the first of four spacewalks planned for this ambitious space station construction mission, McArthur and Chiao connected a series of power and data cables between the new framework, a girderlike truss, and the space station's Unity module.

The men also rearranged two antennas on the truss and bolted a tool box to its surface. They attached the more powerful dish antenna to the end of a 12-foot boom and gently swung it out. "Whoa! Look at the boom!" McArthur said.

Besides antennas, the 15-square-foot truss holds four motion-control gyroscopes. It will serve as the base for a solar panel that will be installed in December by the next shuttle visitors.

McArthur performed his chores while strapped to the end of Discovery's 50-foot robot arm.

"I was wondering what it was going to be like being out on the end of the arm, not being able to see the shuttle," he said. "It's a strange feeling. My toes are curling right up."

To NASA's disappointment, hardly any of the spacewalking work was seen down on Earth.

An antenna failure aboard Discovery has prevented the crew of seven from beaming down live, continuous video since Thursday. The astronauts have had to use a slower shuttle antenna to relay staggered snapshots and occasional snippets of video.

Astronauts have never attempted four spacewalks before on a space station mission. The most spacewalks conducted on a single shuttle flight is five; that was for critical repairs to the Hubble Space Telescope.

During the next six years, astronauts and cosmonauts will have to perform nearly 160 spacewalks to assemble the international space station, an awesome challenge even by NASA standards.

By comparison, only 51 spacewalks have been conducted in almost 20 years of space shuttle flight -- including Sunday's.

Shuttle astronauts Jeff Wisoff and Michael Lopez-Alegria will perform spacewalks on Monday and Wednesday. Monday's outing will include the installation of another space station segment, a docking port for future shuttle visits.

Chiao and McArthur will go back out Tuesday for Spacewalk No. 3.

Chiao performed two spacewalks on his last shuttle flight, in 1996. Sunday was McArthur's first spacewalk.

The spacewalking work must be completed before the station's first permanent crew can move in early next month.

On the Net:

NASA: http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/index-m.html