Russian spacewalkers stumped by faulty equipment

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — A pair of spacewalking cosmonauts had to give up on their main job Thursday, thwarted by a misaligned platform for a yet-to-be-launched telescope.

Making their second spacewalk in under a week, Fyodor Yurchikhin and Aleksandr Misurkin struggled to install the 6-foot telescope mount. It appeared as though the platform was misaligned because of improper assembly on the ground, which could prevent the future telescope from pointing in the right direction.

Russian Mission Control instructed the spacewalkers to rotate the device, then debated for several more minutes what to do. Ultimately, flight controllers told the cosmonauts to give up and bring the platform back inside.

“We have different objectives. We cannot spend a lot of time here,” one of the cosmonauts complained.

Earlier, the spacewalkers had no problem removing and bagging a laser communication experiment, even though it was tough working in that location. The experiment needed to come off to make room for the telescope system.

“Tight quarters up here as far as anything to grab onto,” one of the cosmonauts commented in Russian. “You got that right,” replied the other.

Unsuccessful with their first major chore, the spacewalkers went on to inspect six antennas attached to Russia’s main space station compartment.

On Monday, an antenna cover came off and floated away. Russian space officials wanted to know which antenna lost its protective shield. The spacewalkers double-checked the remaining covers to make sure they were secure. At least two were loose, one by a lot.

Unable to get enough leverage to properly use a screw driver, the cosmonauts could not tighten one of the covers.

“Don’t waste any energy here,” Russian Mission Control radioed.

NASA said the flyaway cover, lost Monday, posed no risk to the 260-mile-high outpost.

NASA, meanwhile, has suspended all U.S. spacewalks while the investigation into last month’s near-drowning continues. An Italian astronaut’s helmet filled with water during a spacewalk on July 16. He barely made it back inside. The water is believed to have originated from the suit’s cooling system.

The two cosmonauts had better luck during last Friday’s spacewalk, performing advance cable hookups for a new Russian lab that is supposed to lift off from Kazakhstan sometime next year. The launch had been targeted for December, but recently was delayed until at least spring.

Before Thursday’s trouble, Russian Mission Control jokingly blared a few seconds of pop music into the cosmonauts’ headsets.

“You want to keep the music on the loop?” Mission Control asked. “Well, if it’s possible, yes,” one of the spacewalkers replied.

“Are you already that tired of me that you want to listen to music instead of my voice?” Mission Control teased.

The reply from orbit: “Please, we never get tired of you.”

The swiveling platform, which should have been installed Thursday, was to hold an optical telescope that’s supposed to be launched in November and installed by spacewalking cosmonauts a month later.

Yurchikhin and Misurkin were instructed to take the laser equipment inside at the end of their spacewalk. The gear eventually will be junked.

This was the 173rd spacewalk at the space station, coming up on the 15th anniversary of the launch of its first part. The four other space station residents — two Americans, one Italian and another Russian — kept tabs on the spacewalk from inside.

As for the defective spacesuit of Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano, NASA said it will return part or all of the outfit early next year on a commercial SpaceX capsule. That will be the first opportunity to get cargo back on Earth. The three-person Russian Soyuz spacecraft are too small for big extra pieces, and the Russian supply ships burn up upon re-entry, doubling as trash cans.

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NASA: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html

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