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German astronaut mum on what ailed him

Image: International Space Station Inside the  European Space Agency Columbus Module
Atlantis commander Steve Frisk, left, mission specialist Hans Schlegel and pilot Alan Poindexter, right, participate in a press conference with media on Earth.NASA TV via EPA
/ Source: The Associated Press

The German astronaut who was too sick to perform a spacewalk refused to say what ailed him, but insisted he's feeling great — albeit a little anxious — for Wednesday's outing.

Hans Schlegel will float outside the linked space shuttle Atlantis and international space station two days after sitting out the flight's first spacewalk, which involved installing Europe's new Columbus science lab.

Schlegel said he backed NASA's decision to pull him off the first spacewalk because of his illness and delay Columbus' hookup by a day, even though it was a bitter pill.

"Nobody could have been happier than me when we finished (Monday's spacewalk) with the major objectives all done," he said in a series of broadcast interviews. "So that's all I want to say because medical issues are private."

Schlegel, 56, pointed out that he helped coordinate Monday's spacewalk from inside.

"I did my very best inside," he said. "But I do not deny that personally, for me, that was a little bit bitter. But it was the better choice to have the other crew member go out, and once that decision was made, I fully supported as much as I could."

He noted: "The bigger scheme is what is important."

NASA and European Space Agency officials stressed there were no changes to Wednesday's spacewalk on Schlegel's behalf, and that he would do everything just as he'd practiced before last week's launch. No one is opposed to his going outside to perform the strenuous spacewalking work, officials said.

Schlegel will be accompanied on the 6 1/2-hour spacewalk — his first ever — by one of the NASA astronauts who went out Monday, Rex Walheim. The two will install a new nitrogen tank on the space station.

Schlegel and the nine other space travelers spent Tuesday opening up the Columbus lab and getting its equipment running. Atlantis delivered the $2 billion science lab, and the two crews attached it to the space station on Monday.

The astronauts — wearing goggles to guard against floating dust, metal chips or other debris — opened up floor panels to get to the equipment underneath, and turned on computers, heaters and fans. A few of the systems had startup trouble, but that's normal for a brand new piece of hardware, NASA managers said.

"I have to say that the crew is like a bunch of kids with a new toy box," said flight director Bob Dempsey.

The European Space Agency's station program manager, Alan Thirkettle, said it was thrilling to see astronauts inside Columbus, immaculate and brilliantly white.

"They're doing the first thing that the crew does, which is to make a complete mess of what was a beautiful piece of clean hardware inside," Thirkettle joked.

Atlantis will remain at the space station until at least Sunday. NASA is considering keeping the shuttle there an extra day.