Spacewalk goes on despite last-minute switch because of German astronaut's illness
Eds: UPDATES with astronauts donning spacesuit, ESA comment; Spacewalk scheduled to begin around 9:30 a.m. EST.
By LIZ AUSTIN PETERSON
Associated Press Writer
HOUSTON (AP) -- Astronauts aboard shuttle Atlantis and the international space station geared up Monday for the first spacewalk of their joint mission, an outing that was delayed a day after a crew member got sick.
Spacewalkers Rex Walheim and Stanley Love donned their spacesuits and were preparing to help a crewmate inside the station use a robotic arm to install the station's newest lab, Europe's Columbus module.
German astronaut Hans Schlegel was supposed to be Walheim's spacewalking partner, but he was pulled from the job Saturday because of an undisclosed illness.
He was fine for Thursday's liftoff and became ill in orbit, European Space Agency officials said, adding that the condition was neither life-threatening nor contagious. While NASA declined to release any details, citing medical privacy, a majority of astronauts suffer from space motion sickness during their first few days in orbit.
Schlegel, 56, looked and sounded well Sunday and was expected to take part in the second spacewalk of the mission on Wednesday. On Monday, however, Schlegel was given the task of helping choreograph the outing from inside the station.
The main task for Walheim and Love will be attaching a handle to Columbus that will allow robotic arm operator Leland Melvin to grab hold of the module and delicately lift it from Atlantis' cargo bay.
Melvin will then install Columbus on the right side of the Harmony module, which Discovery's astronauts delivered in December.
The 10-ton Columbus laboratory is Europe's main contribution to the space station.
The original plan called for the module to be launched in 1992 to mark the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' voyage to the New World. Since then, the $2 billion lab has endured space station redesigns and slowdowns, as well as a number of shuttle postponements and two shuttle accidents.
"It's getting more exciting here for us every day," a European flight controller said Monday. "... We're looking forward to a successful Columbus installation today."
"This will be a big day for us," replied French Air Force Gen. Leopold Eyharts, who arrived at the station aboard Atlantis to spend a month setting up and activating the new lab.
With their flight now 12 days long because of the spacewalk delay, Atlantis' astronauts conducted another survey of a thermal blanket that has a torn corner; the stitching came apart at the seams, and the corner pulled up.
Engineers were analyzing the problem to determine whether the blanket would stand up to the intense heat of re-entry at flight's end, or whether spacewalk repairs might be needed. The blanket is located on the right orbital maneuvering system pod, back near the shuttle's tail.
NASA is vigilant when it comes to the shuttle's thermal shielding, ever since Columbia was destroyed in 2003 following a foam strike to its wing during launch.
John Shannon, chairman of the mission management team, said the thermal covering on the wings, nose and belly of Atlantis have no areas of concern and have been cleared for re-entry in just over a week.
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