New space station door gets test walk
CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida -- The new $164 million door for space station Alpha has opened for business with two astronauts who helped install it going for test spacewalk early Saturday (EDT).
Mike Gernhardt and James Reilly, with assistance from crews of both the space station and the space shuttle Atlantis, have cracked the seal on the air lock, called Quest, and ventured on a quest outside Alpha.
The pair began their third and final spacewalk since Atlantis reached the station last week.
There was nothing beneath the astronauts but planet Earth as they made their way out.
"It really is way down. You get a sense of falling, don't you?" Gernhardt said.
"Wow, look at that," said Reilly.
They will attach a final nitrogen tank to Alpha. The pair installed another nitrogen tank and two oxygen tanks on an earlier spacewalk. The doghouse-shaped gas tanks are 3 feet in diameter and weigh 1,200 pounds each. They are needed to use the air lock.
'Go' to walk
NASA gave the go-ahead for this third, and final, spacewalk despite leaks in the new portal.
According to an online NASA news release, Alpha crew member Jim Voss reported tracking down and sealing one minor leak discovered during an overnight pressure check. Air was leaking from the equipment lock to the crew lock, which is where Gernhardt and Reilly will step off the station, the release said.
Flight Directors Paul Hill and Mark Kirasich reviewed final details of the spacewalk early Friday and told the crewmembers that flight control teams had agreed all systems were "go" for the first station-based excursion out of the air lock.
Commander Steve Lindsey later beamed down a video tour of the fully outfitted Quest module.
Leaks and spills
NASA extended the shuttle mission to Alpha after the crew got behind mopping up spills and plugging leaks.
Before the latest air leak, the crewmembers changed out a leaky valve in the new air lock. Before that, they had to mop up a small amount of water that had spilled from a cooling link near Quest.
Earlier in the mission, Atlantis astronauts discovered suspected battery acid leaking from a spare spacesuit. The possible toxic leak triggered a swift emergency cleanup by the Atlantis crew, which donned gloves and wiped down the area.
NASA said the leaky spacesuit and valve would return to Earth on Atlantis.
The Alpha crew is scheduled to return to Earth in August after spending almost half a year in orbit. Atlantis is scheduled to land at Kennedy Space Center early next Tuesday.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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