Spacewalking astronauts turn plumbers, hook hoses

Mission Specialists Nicholas Patrick and Robert Behnken work outside the International Space Station during the second spacewalk of the STS-130 mission.
Mission Specialists Nicholas Patrick and Robert Behnken work outside the International Space Station during the second spacewalk of the STS-130 mission. NASA TV

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — The International Space Station's newest room came alive with power Sunday after spacewalking astronauts managed to hook up plumbing despite an ammonia leak.

Even though Nicholas Patrick's suit got hit with ammonia, none of the frozen toxic drops stuck to him. The mishap forced a slightly early end to the spacewalk, however, so the spacewalkers could go through safety procedures.

It was the second excursion in three days for Patrick and Robert Behnken. They have one more spacewalk to complete work on the Tranquility room and its attached observation deck, the last major building blocks of the 11-year-old space station. Shuttle Endeavour carried up the pieces last week.

With the throw of a few switches, Behnken and Patrick got ammonia coolant flowing through the newly routed Tranquility hoses. That, in turn, got Tranquility surging with power; most of its systems could not be turned on without a way to get rid of the heat generated by the equipment inside.

Mission Control passed up the good news about the temperature dropping in Tranquility and the power kicking in.

"We're so happy our feet are off the floor," said astronaut Stephen Robinson, who coordinated the spacewalk from inside the shuttle-station complex.

It was unwieldy work because of the extra-long hoses and potentially hazardous because of the ammonia.

Patrick said the ammonia was solid by the time it bounced off his visor and right glove Saturday night, as he was undoing a connection.

"It was about the kind of quantity of stuff that you would expect if you didn't empty the straw at the end of your drink bag," Patrick reported.

"Yeah - if you were drinking ammonia," Robinson said from inside. Patrick had a good laugh.

Mission Control said slight leakage was expected. As a precaution, Behnken inspected Patrick's suit at the end of the plumbing job, but no contamination was spotted. Nevertheless, the spacewalkers were instructed to wrap up everything early to allow extra time for safety procedures back in the air lock.

"I know you guys can't see it, but the lights are on" in Tranquility, shuttle commander George Zamka said as the six-hour spacewalk wrapped up.

The $400 million-plus Tranquility and lookout - supplied by the European Space Agency - will hold life-support systems as well as exercise equipment and a toilet.

The domed lookout is essentially an enormous bay window that will provide breathtaking views of Earth. Its seven windows includes the largest ever flown in space: a round one 31 inches across.

While preparing the observation deck for its planned move to another side of Tranquility, the astronauts could not put on an insulating cover at the hatch. It simply did not fit; something interfered with the lock-down bars.

Late Saturday, the space station's commander, Jeffrey Williams, reported that bolts seemed to be causing the interference. He removed all eight bolts, saying the clearance would be tight but that the cover likely would fit. It did, with some coaxing Sunday.

The cover is needed to protect a seal and docking mechanisms from getting too cold when that port is unoccupied.

Mission Control had some good news for the six shuttle astronauts before the spacewalk got under way: They will get to spend an extra day at the space station.

Mission managers added a 14th day to the mission to give the crew time to move water-recycling equipment into Tranquility. NASA wanted to see if repairs to the broken urine processor worked before moving the equipment. They apparently did.

Endeavour is now scheduled to return to Earth on Feb. 21.

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