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Astronaut savors first walk in space

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February 15, 1997
Web posted at: 12:47 p.m. EST (1247 GMT)

JOHNSON SPACE CENTER, Texas (CNN) -- Joe Tanner's first walk in space was a delicate dance of precise mechanical manipulation made to look oh, so easy. (187K/16 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

Heaving a malfunctioning guidance sensor the size of a baby grand piano out of its compartment on the Hubble Space Telescope, he and fellow spacewalker Gregory Harbaugh deftly replaced it -- one of three -- early Saturday.

While they worked, Harbaugh and Tanner performed a weightless ballet while marveling at spectacular views of their home planet 370 miles below.

"What a picture this is," Harbaugh exclaimed. "Man, oh, man."

Tanner remarked that the view came from "the best seat in the house."

Astronauts Mark Lee and Steven Smith were scheduled to do a similar walk in space later Saturday to install more telescope equipment.

Remarkable space photos

The instrument exchange by Tanner and Harbaugh took about three hours of their 7.5-hour walk in space. With Tanner on the end of the shuttle Discovery's robot arm, the two astronauts gently slid the new sensor into place. The instrument has so much stability that it could focus a laser beam on a dime from 200 miles (320 kilometers) away.

"I think it's in there, yes sir," Harbaugh said as Tanner maneuvered the sensor.

Tanner sealed the $8 million sensor into its compartment with NASA's version of an electric drill, while NASA cameras beamed back pictures that astronaut Story Musgrave called some of the most remarkable scenes ever sent from space.

Tanner and Harbaugh also installed an electronics enhancement kit for the new sensor and replaced a broken data recorder.

Years in space take toll on Hubble

The astronauts finished their second spacewalk in Discovery's repair mission with an inspection of the damage done during Hubble's seven years in space. The satellite's foil "skin" is torn and peeling away in some parts, and the 40-foot-long (12 meters) electricity-generating solar panels have taken a number of debris hits.

Astronaut Story Musgrave, who orchestrated the
first Hubble repair three years ago, talks about
the mission and the telescope
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Videotaping the damage on one of the panels, Tanner said it looked "like somebody shot a small caliber bullet right through it."

Surprised by the extent of the damage, NASA mission managers were meeting Saturday to discuss options for repairing the insulation foil, which protects the satellite from the harsh temperatures of space.


"The specific concern is if that starts breaking off, then it could contaminate the optics and then degrade the capabilities of the telescope," said astronaut Jerry Ross, watching the repair efforts from Mission Control.

Once the astronauts were inside the shuttle again, Discovery commander Ken Bowersox nudged the orbiter and its $2 billion payload another two miles into space. Two more firings of the shuttle's small jets will move the telescope's orbit to about 375 miles above Earth, farther from the pull of the planet's atmosphere.

Lee, Smith prepare for second time out

working on compartment

On Thursday, astronauts Lee and Smith spent 6.5 hours in space installing a $125 million, two-dimensional imaging spectrograph and a $105 million near-infrared camera into Hubble.

Mission managers declared the pair's walk "100 percent successful," and on Saturday said the new equipment appeared to be working properly. Astronomers expected to wait about 10 weeks, however, before seeing the instruments' first images and data.

Lee and Smith are to make their second trip into Discovery's cargo bay later Saturday. The two will replace another data recorder and install a new interface between the telescope itself and Hubble's command center.

Tanner and Harbaugh will take a second turn on Sunday.

The mission is the first to Hubble since a 1993 mission to repair faulty optics that had left the telescope virtually unusable since its 1990 deployment. The 1993 repair job was successful, however, and Hubble has been beaming pictures of space that no Earth-bound telescope could capture.

The next Hubble repair mission is scheduled in about 3.5 years; the telescope has a life expectancy of about 15 years.

Correspondent John Holliman and Reuters contributed to this report.


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