Video: Spacewalk a bust

By
updated 8/30/2012 10:15:49 PM ET 2012-08-31T02:15:49

Sticky bolts proved too much for spacewalking astronauts Thursday, forcing them to leave a new power-switching box dangling from the International Space Station instead of bolted down.

NASA scrambled to reduce the power demands of the orbiting lab and balance the electrical load, while mapping out a plan that could have the astronauts going back out as early as next week to tackle the problem.

It was a major disappointment for NASA's Sunita Williams and Japan's Akihiko Hoshide, who spent hours struggling with the bolts. They used all sorts of tools and tactics as the spacewalk went into overtime, but nothing worked.

With time running out, Mission Control finally told them to tie down the box and head inside. "We'll figure this out another day," Mission Control radioed.

Thursday's spacewalk was supposed to last six and a half hours but instead went for eight hours and 17 minutes. It ended up in NASA's top 10 list for longest spacewalks — at the No. 3 spot.

The power router is one of four, and NASA stressed that the other three are working fine. Nonetheless, electrical usage will need to be closely monitored at the 260-mile-high (418-kilometer-high) lab, given Thursday's failed effort.

"The team may have to manage power loads a little bit, but this is familiar territory," said NASA's space station program manager, Mike Suffredini. "We'll be able to deal with that while we decide what our next plan is."

While the space station remains in stable condition, NASA would like to take another crack at securing the box as soon as possible — perhaps next week — because of the mid-September departure of half the six-member crew, including the second U.S. astronaut, who ran the robot arm Thursday from inside the station. And the longer this situation goes on, the more vulnerable the space station is to additional failures, Suffredini noted.

Until the problem is resolved, the space station is able to draw power from just three-quarters of its solar wings — six instead of all eight.

The old switch box started acting up last fall, and NASA decided to replace it before it failed. This was the first spacewalk by Americans since the final shuttle flight a year ago.

Williams and Hoshide had trouble getting the old unit out because of two sticky bolts, and they found metal shavings in the area. They squirted in compressed nitrogen gas to clear the holes, and some debris came out. But still, the main bolt would not go in properly; the companion bolt was left undone.

  1. Space news from NBCNews.com
    1. KARE
      Teen's space mission fueled by social media

      Science editor Alan Boyle's blog: "Astronaut Abby" is at the controls of a social-media machine that is launching the 15-year-old from Minnesota to Kazakhstan this month for the liftoff of the International Space Station's next crew.

    2. Buzz Aldrin's vision for journey to Mars
    3. Giant black hole may be cooking up meals
    4. Watch a 'ring of fire' solar eclipse online

The frustration mounted as the minutes and hours ticked by. At one point, Mission Control radioed, "We've tried almost every backup we have on this stupid bolt."

At a news conference later in the day, NASA officials said possible solutions might involve lubricating the thick, sturdy bolts or applying more torque.

Putting in a new switching box was the No. 1 priority of the spacewalk. In separate work, the astronauts managed to hook up one power cable and get another cable halfway connected. They never got around to replacing a bad camera on the space station's big robotic arm.

Mission Control did its best to cheer up the spacewalkers as they re-entered the space station. "You guys are rock stars, just so you know," Mission Control said.

It was the second spacewalk in less than two weeks. On Aug. 20, two Russians worked outside the orbiting complex, installing shields to protect against micrometeorite strikes.

It's no longer common for astronauts to step into the vacuum of space. That's because after almost 14 years, the space station is virtually complete. Plus NASA's shuttles are retired and now museum pieces.

Williams is the lone woman among the space station's current six-person crew. She and Hoshide arrived at the space station a month ago, launching from Kazakhstan aboard a Russian rocket.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Month in Space: January 2014

loading photos...
  1. Southern stargazing

    Stars, galaxies and nebulas dot the skies over the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Paranal Observatory in Chile, in a picture released on Jan. 7. This image also shows three of the four movable units that feed light into the Very Large Telescope Interferometer, the world's most advanced optical instrument. Combining to form one larger telescope, they are greater than the sum of their parts: They reveal details that would otherwise be visible only through a telescope as large as the distance between them. (Y. Beletsky / ESO) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A balloon's view

    Cameras captured the Grandville High School RoboDawgs' balloon floating through Earth's upper atmosphere during its ascent on Dec. 28, 2013. The Grandville RoboDawgs’ first winter balloon launch reached an estimated altitude of 130,000 feet, or about 25 miles, according to coaches Mike Evele and Doug Hepfer. It skyrocketed past the team’s previous 100,000-feet record set in June. The RoboDawgs started with just one robotics team in 1998, but they've grown to support more than 30 teams at public schools in Grandville, Mich. (Kyle Moroney / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Spacemen at work

    Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov, right, and Sergey Ryazanskiy perform maintenance on the International Space Station on Jan. 27. During the six-hour, eight-minute spacewalk, Kotov and Ryazanskiy completed the installation of a pair of high-fidelity cameras that experienced connectivity issues during a Dec. 27 spacewalk. The cosmonauts also retrieved scientific gear outside the station's Russian segment. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Special delivery

    The International Space Station's Canadian-built robotic arm moves toward Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Cygnus autonomous cargo craft as it approaches the station for a Jan. 12 delivery. The mountains below are the southwestern Alps. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Accidental art

    A piece of art? A time-lapse photo? A flickering light show? At first glance, this image looks nothing like the images we're used to seeing from the Hubble Space Telescope. But it's a genuine Hubble frame that was released on Jan. 27. Hubble's team suspects that the telescope's Fine Guidance System locked onto a bad guide star, potentially a double star or binary. This caused an error in the tracking system, resulting in a remarkable picture of brightly colored stellar streaks. The prominent red streaks are from stars in the globular cluster NGC 288. (NASA / ESA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Supersonic test flight

    A camera looking back over Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo's fuselage shows the rocket burn with a Mojave Desert vista in the background during a test flight of the rocket plane on Jan. 10. Cameras were mounted on the exterior of SpaceShipTwo as well as its carrier airplane, WhiteKnightTwo, to monitor the rocket engine's performance. The test was aimed at setting the stage for honest-to-goodness flights into outer space later this year, and eventual commercial space tours.

    More about SpaceShipTwo on PhotoBlog (Virgin Galactic) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Red lagoon

    The VLT Survey Telescope at the European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory in Chile captured this richly detailed new image of the Lagoon Nebula, released on Jan. 22. This giant cloud of gas and dust is creating intensely bright young stars, and is home to young stellar clusters. This image is a tiny part of just one of 11 public surveys of the sky now in progress using ESO telescopes. (ESO/VPHAS team) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Fire on the mountain

    This image provided by NASA shows a satellite view of smoke from the Colby Fire, taken by the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer aboard NASA's Terra spacecraft as it passed over Southern California on Jan. 16. The fire burned more than 1,863 acres and forced the evacuation of 3,700 people. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Where stars are born

    An image captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Orion Nebula, an immense stellar nursery some 1,500 light-years away. This false-color infrared view, released on Jan. 15, spans about 40 light-years across the region. The brightest portion of the nebula is centered on Orion's young, massive, hot stars, known as the Trapezium Cluster. But Spitzer also can detect stars still in the process of formation, seen here in red hues. (NASA / JPL-Caltech) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Cygnus takes flight

    Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket rises from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va, on Jan. 9. The rocket sent Orbital's Cygnus cargo capsule on its first official resupply mission to the International Space Station. (Chris Perry / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A long, long time ago...

    This long-exposure picture from the Hubble Space Telescope, released Jan. 8, is the deepest image ever made of any cluster of galaxies. The cluster known as Abell 2744 appears in the foreground. It contains several hundred galaxies as they looked 3.5 billion years ago. Abell 2744 acts as a gravitational lens to warp space, brightening and magnifying images of nearly 3,000 distant background galaxies. The more distant galaxies appear as they did more than 12 billion years ago, not long after the Big Bang. (NASA / NASA via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Frosty halo

    Sun dogs are bright spots that appear in the sky around the sun when light is refracted through ice crystals in the atmosphere. These sun dogs appeared on Jan. 5 amid brutally cold temperatures along Highway 83, north of Bismarck, N.D. The temperature was about 22 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, with a 50-below-zero wind chill.

    Slideshow: The Year in Space (Brian Peterson / The Bismarck Tribune via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  1. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  2. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  3. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  4. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments