Image: Spacewalker Stephen Bowen
Atlantis spacewalker Stephen Bowen adjusts a foot restraint as he works outside the International Space Station on Wednesday.
updated 5/20/2010 12:05:57 AM ET 2010-05-20T04:05:57

A spacewalking astronaut freed a snagged cable on the inspection boom for the shuttle Atlantis on Wednesday, accomplishing the job in a matter of minutes and earning a "superhero" title.

With that behind him, Stephen Bowen whipped through a slew of space station battery replacements.

Bowen and his spacewalking partner, Michael Good, plugged in four new batteries at the International Space Station and even repaired a loose antenna.

The tangled cable had prevented the shuttle astronauts from thoroughly inspecting their ship for any possible damage from last week's launch. NASA wanted it fixed as soon as possible and added the chore to Wednesday's spacewalk, the second in three days.

Astronauts working inside moved the end of the 100-foot (30-meter) inspection boom within easy reach of Bowen.

"Keep coming. Another 6 inches or so," Bowen called out. "Perfect. Stop."

A few minutes later, he announced: "I have it unsnagged."

"Well done, superhero," shuttle pilot Dominic "Tony" Antonelli radioed from inside.

As he was tying the cord back so it wouldn’t get tangled again in camera equipment on the boom, Bowen discovered another wire tie that was already there and causing the cable to get hung up. He slid the loose wire tie into a position Mission Control deemed adequate. Indeed, the camera-tilting system on the boom later checked out fine in a series of tests.

Spacewalkers exceed expectations
The bulk of the seven-hour spacewalk involved the batteries on the far left side of the space station. The batteries were somewhat cumbersome to handle — 3-foot-wide (1-meter-wide) boxes weighing 375 pounds (170 kilograms) apiece — but the astronauts managed to replace four of them, one more than planned.

Video: Atlantis on final mission Bowen and Good were running so far ahead that they also squeezed in some antenna work.

They tightened bolts on a spare antenna that was installed earlier in the week, then wiggled it to make sure it was secure.

"It seems to me like you guys are cruising, like you're riding the tsunami," Antonelli said.

As the shuttle-station complex soared 220 miles (400 kilometers) above the South Pacific, the crew inside urged the spacewalkers to take a momentary break and check out the Southern Lights. They managed to catch a glimpse of the aurora.

Two more batteries will be replaced Friday during the third and final spacewalk of Atlantis' flight.

More inspections ahead
Atlantis delivered the fresh batteries over the weekend, along with a Russian compartment that was installed Tuesday.

"I don’t think Mission Control could be any more proud," flight director Emily Nelson said after the spacewalk ended.

The astronauts conducted a curtailed survey of Atlantis on Saturday, the day after liftoff. NASA wanted the cable on the end of the 100-foot inspection boom untangled so the shuttle could be checked properly before it heads back to Earth next week.

Flight controllers have no reason to believe Atlantis was damaged during liftoff by flyaway foam insulation. But they may yet order up a survey while Atlantis is docked to the space station, Nelson said.

At the very least, the astronauts will check the shuttle’s wings and nose cap following Sunday’s undocking for any micrometeorite damage that may have occurred in orbit.

The safety inspections were put in place following the 2003 Columbia disaster. Columbia shattered during re-entry because of a hole in the wing that was left by a slab of broken foam.

Nelson said engineers still do not know how the cable on Atlantis’ inspection boom got tangled.

The space shuttle is due to return to Earth on Wednesday.

This is Atlantis' final scheduled flight as the shuttle program winds down. Only two missions remain on the calendar for later this year. There's a chance, however, that Atlantis could take on one more flight if the funding and the logistics work out.

This report was supplemented by

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Video: The ‘first last flight’ of Atlantis

  1. Closed captioning of: The ‘first last flight’ of Atlantis

    >>> affair and stepped down.

    >>> another spacewalk success, crewmates are calling spacewalker stephen bowan a superhero after he managed to quickly untangle critical wires. to make sure the ship is safe to return to earth . this is the third to last shuttle mission before the program retires at the end of the year. our own contessa brewer takes us up to you international space station with three of the station's residents and visiting astronauts from shultz " atlantis ."

    >> it's great see all of you. ken, let me begin with you since you're upside down. this is your first time as commander here. " atlantis " last-scheduled flight. how does that leave you feeling, knowing that you're coming back for the last time on " atlantis "?

    >> it's a fantastic experience, and as a crew, what we're coining this flight is the first last flight of " atlantis ," because obviously there is some potential nar great ship to fly again, but she's served us very well so far. we're having a ball up here. and we couldn't be happier with her performance. and we'd like to say, thanks again, to the entire team that put her together, ready to fly again for us.

    >> we had a generator go out just this week, but overall, it seems like you guys managed to deal pretty well with whatever challenges come up in front of you. how will that change once the american shuttles are not going back and forth to the international space station ?

    >> nasa and our partners, we rise to the occasion , and whatever challenge comes our way, we've got lots of people -- lots of bright people that are committed to making this work, and exactly hour, depends on the problem. but we still have vehicles coming up and down. it's -- it just puts our creative minds to work, exactly how we're going to best utilize those resources.

    >> garrett, the spacewalker out there, have you managed to go out and have a sense of accomplishment? i mean this is something, i'm sure, when you have grandchildren and great-grandchildren this is going to be the story that grandpa garrett was out walking in space. it must leave you with such a feeling of accomplishment.

    >> there is really nothing like it. i have to be honest with you. spacewalking is in my experience, the most outlandish thing i've ever gotten to do and i'm very grateful for the opportunity. actually when i first becqm an astronaut, they looked at how short i am. i'm hm 5 fo5'4" and when i talked about doing spacewalks they laughed at me and here i am today. we managed to accomplish pretty much everything and then some that we set out to do and we had some difficult moments. we had a connector that was stubborn, and one of the things i'll always remember is when we finally solved that problem, got that connector hooked up. it was a sense of elation that it was difficult to describe, but i was glad to shake steve's hand up this and share the moment. it was a good feeling.

    >> oleg, i know that you're a medical doctor , and some of the experiments you're doing there have to do with the impact on the human body and what the human body is capable of withstanding, in terms of stress in space. how do you predict that what you're working on there on the international space station might some day help humans.

    >> we're running experiments and it really helps people to leave matter on the earth and also to travel for -- behind ins.

    >> i pierce, i want to ask you you have a ph.d. in ecology and we've been seeing incredible images from space from that gulf oil slick. you can just give me your perspective.

    >> i got a report from my boss because i didn't see the oil slick -- because i was so busy working -- i am sorry to miss it, but we have seen it, you know on tv, before we came -- before we came up here. you know, these things aren't good. when you fly around the planet a few times, you get to see the thumbprint of man all over the place. most of it good, you know? cultivation, cities, most of them clean. and sometimes bad, you know a lot of biomass burning, and pollution. but we're optimistic. i think the people anxiously learned to look after the planet.

    >> let's hope so and thanks


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