Shuttle Astronauts Ready For Spacewalk

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The Space Shuttle Discovery’s astronauts prepared on Tuesday for the first spacewalk of their mission plus the installation of Japan’s huge Kibo lab to the International Space Station (ISS).

The shuttle docked with the space station Monday and now spacewalkers Ronald Garan Jr and Michael Fossum are preparing the $1 billion lab for installation.

Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide will then use the station’s robotic arm to attach the lab to the International Space Station.

“Obviously its gonna be a really big day for Japan, they’ve been working very hard on this module and all of the systems in it,” said ISS flight director Emily Nelson.

Kibo, which is Japanese for hope, is 37 feet long, making it bigger than the European and U.S. labs already in place.

About an hour before they docked, Discovery was positioned so that its underside could be photographed by ISS astronauts. This has become a regular safety feature to ensure the shuttle is free of damage before re-entry.

As well as preparing the installation of Kibo, the spacewalkers need to clean a jammed solar rotating joint and remove an inspection boom they will need next week to check for damage to the Discovery’s nose cap and wings. The boom was left behind by the last crew as Kibo took up all the room in the payload bay.

Discovery brought with it badly-needed supplies including parts to fix a high-tech Russian space toilet. The astronauts had rigged-up a temporary bypass for liquid waste when the ISS commode broke down last week.

There were about five pieces of insulating foam that broke free from Discovery’s fuel tank during liftoff but does not appear to have caused any damage.

The focus lies on the flame trench which suffered the worst launch pad damage in 27 years. A large section measuring 75 feet by 20 feet broke away plus concrete mortar and pieces of the heat-resistant fire bricks were found over 1,800 feet away, beyond the chain-link barrier fence.

The trench does not appear to have damaged the shuttle.

The trench dates back to the Apollo era in the 1960s and is designed to deflect the exhaust of the booster rockets.

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