“Keep your eyes on your gloves,” Mission Control told astronauts James Reilly and Danny Olivas on Monday as they prepared to engage in a spacewalk outside the celestial confines of the International Space Station (ISS), reports the Associated Press in the The Dallas Morning News.
This is the first spacewalk to be performed on the Atlantis mission. During the spacewalk, ground control engineers down in Houston, Texas, will analyze what they are told and shown as the pair of astronauts glide to a peeled-back thermal blanket on the Atlantis spacecraft to determine if it needs to be repaired before they bring the ship home. The peel-back was discovered during an inspection on Saturday.
“If we do have damage to the glove, it will help us detect where on the vehicle we have a sharp edge,” Kirk Shireman, deputy program manager of the ISS, told Sci-Tech Today, in explanation for why the astronauts will want to keep a close watch on their gloved hands.
The main mission of the spacewalk, however, is to install a pair of massive girders and two new solar wings to boost the International Space Station’s power grid. The astronauts will accomplish this installation of the heaviest-yet components to be added to the ISS with help from robotic arms. The components are called the Starboard 3/Starboard 4 (S3/S4) trusses.
“We’ll have much more redundancy in the power system. And we’ll be in a better configuration for later on in building the space station,” Shireman said.
Delivering and installing these trusses is the reason the Atlantis docked at the ISS. The possible needed repair work is only incidental to the mission.
“[W]e’ll be balancing out the station with the solar arrays on that side. And that’s our primary, and relatively simple, objective, when you look at it from that standpoint,” Reilly was quoted as saying by Space.Com.
The spacewalk is to commence at 2:53 PM Eastern Standard Time.
With regards to the possible repairs, engineers who were told of the peel-back considered that temperatures on the Atlantis’ heat shield can get as high as 2900 deg. F during re-entry, even though the blanket itself in re-entry only reaches 700 degrees to 1000 degrees F.
“The concern is that if it sticks up, you get additional heating,” John Shannon, chairman of the mission management team, told The Dallas Morning News.
However, other than the peel-back on the Atlantis, all preparations for the spacewalk have gone smooth as silk.
“Things have been going really well and we expect it to be the same to get our new truss installed,” Space station flight director Holly Ridings told Sci-Tech Today.
“It is delicate work, and the tolerances are small, but we have good aids on board,” former ISS flight engineer Sunita Williams and shuttle pilot Lee Archambault, who will be controlling one of the station’s robotic arms during the spacewalk, told Space.Com.
Space.Com, “Mission Atlantis: Spacewalkers to Deliver New ISS Solar Arrays”
Sci-Tech Today, “Atlantis Astronauts Plan Mission’s First Spacewalk”
The Dallas Morning News, “Astronauts plan first spacewalk of Atlantis mission”