Spacewalking astronauts hook up electrical connections for wings

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - Two spacewalking astronauts ventured outside Tuesday for the second time this week and completed electrical hookups for the international space station's new power-producing solar wings.

They also provided flight controllers with up-close pictures of the right wing, which is too slack.

Perched 90 feet above space shuttle Endeavour, Carlos Noriega used small TV cameras mounted on his helmet to beam down pictures of loose tension cables on the right wing. The cables came off their pulleys when the wing was extended Sunday night, leaving the blanket of solar cells slack.

The problem could cause the fabric to tear or the wing to bend or break during shuttle dockings or other extreme motions.

''We can put it back on that one pulley,'' spacewalker Joe Tanner called down. ''But the other one is going to be a little work.''

Mission Control agreed that Noriega and Tanner could probably fix the cables during their third and final spacewalk on Thursday.

The left wing stretched out fine Monday night, during a deliberately slow release, and was perfectly taut.

The helmet cameras - dubbed ''Carlos-cam'' and ''Joe-cam'' - are a new spacewalking feature that came in handy during Tuesday's evaluation of the slack wing. Tanner's helmet cameras, however, stopped working.

Canadian astronaut Marc Garneau, directing the spacewalk from inside Endeavour, sounded like a film director as he told Noriega which way to point his head.

''Look downward a bit. OK, now hold that for a bit and let the ground have a look. If you can, now pan up toward the tension bar, which is upward,'' Garneau instructed.

Until Tuesday's spacewalk, the electricity generated by the solar wings was not flowing into space station Alpha. Noriega and Tanner hooked up power cables between the solar wings and the station, while station commander Bill Shepherd and his Russian crew attached cables on the inside to complete the circuit.

The solar wings, 240 feet from tip to tip and 38 feet wide, are capable of producing 65 kilowatts at peak power. That is four times more than Alpha was producing before. The new wings were installed on the station by Noriega and Tanner during a spacewalk on Sunday.

The additional power will allow Alpha's three residents to have full run of the station for the next three months of their mission. One of the station's three rooms had been unheated and sealed off.

The installation of the solar wings will also enable NASA to launch its power-hungry Destiny lab module in January as planned.

The spacewalkers made one unexpected discovery: a gouge the size of a ballpoint pen tip and small scratches on a mirrorlike plate outside the space station. It was not immediately clear how the plate was nicked.


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