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Orbital 'cable guys' handle spacewalk despite snags

A spacewalking astronaut almost had to retreat into the safety of the International Space Station when something got into his eye, but he and his crewmate were able to wrap up the day's work.
Image: Spacewalk
In a video shot from NASA TV, Endeavour astronaut Drew Feustel works with power cables outside the International Space Station during a spacewalk on Wednesday.NASA TV via Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

A spacewalking astronaut almost had to retreat into the safety of the International Space Station on Wednesday when something got into his eye and made it sting "like crazy."

Several minutes after he reported the discomfort, Andrew Feustel assured everyone his eye was feeling better and the third spacewalk of shuttle Endeavour's final voyage continued as planned.

The incident came as the spacewalk hit the five-hour mark. Feustel and Mike Fincke had just finished running power cables from the U.S. side of the orbiting house to the Russian half.

Feustel spoke quietly and calmly as he alerted his crewmates about the problem with his eye.

"Just as an FYI, my right eye is stinging like crazy right now. It's watering a lot. Must have gotten something" in it, Feustel called out.

"Sorry, buddy," Fincke said.

"Oh, boy," Feustel moaned.

Feustel was assured that he and Fincke were "close to home" — near the hatch leading into the space station — and was asked again how he felt. He managed to rub his eye against a strap in his helmet and said that helped.

"Almost got the better of me," Feustel said. "Ah, my eye feels much, much better."

The spacewalkers noted that the problem with tears in space is that "they don't fall off of your eye ... they kind of stay there."

Until Feustel's eye irritation, everything had been unfolding uneventfully 220 miles (350 kilometers) up, a relief for the spacewalkers who struggled with loose bolts during Sunday's excursion. And during the first spacewalk late last week, a spacesuit malfunction forced an early end to the work.

Early in Wednesday's spacewalk, when told they were running ahead of schedule, Fincke replied, "I want to enjoy it while it lasts."

"Knock on wood somewhere and don't talk about it again," Feustel added.

The spacewalk came to a routine end after seven hours. Mission Control urged Feustel and Fincke to go back in, even though they were willing to tackle more chores. "It's been a great day, a great (spacewalk), and we'd like you to finish up on a great note," Mission Control said.

Feustel and Fincke turned cable installers to carry out their job. The new power lines they installed ultimately tap into the space station's huge U.S. solar wings and provide a power backup to the Russian systems.

The astronauts hooked up a grapple fixture for the space station's robot arm, putting it on the very first piece of the outpost, a Russian compartment launched in 1998. They also finished wiring up antennas, work left over from the first spacewalk.

As he got started on all the work, Fincke promised Russian flight controllers that he'd tackle the job with "much enthusiasm." He relayed the message in Russian, then asked his shuttle crewmate Gregory Chamitoff in English: "OK, Greg, what's next?"

"Russian or English?" Chamitoff joked.

"How about Italian?" Fincke replied.

All three countries are represented aboard the orbiting shuttle-station complex right now: six Americans, two Russians and one Italian.

Before stepping out in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, Feustel and Fincke tried a new spacewalk preparation method of light exercise. The routine was aimed at streamlining the process for getting accustomed to spacesuit depressuriization and repressurization, and mission managers said it worked well on Wednesday.

This is NASA's next-to-last space shuttle flight. One more spacewalk is planned before Endeavour heads home, to install the shuttle's long inspection boom to the station as an extension tool for hard-to-reach repairs.

The shuttle astronauts will use the laser- and camera-tipped boom one last time late Wednesday night to check for any signs of micrometeorite damage to Endeavour's heat shield.

Landing is scheduled for June 1.

NASA will close out the 30-year shuttle program in July with one last flight by Atlantis.