Spacewalking astronauts fix broken station equipment

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) - Two spacewalking astronauts fixed broken equipment Sunday night on the outside of the international space station, flying united with the shuttle Atlantis.

It was the shuttle crew's second 200-mile-high feat of the day. The first was the impeccable shuttle-station linkup.

Eager to get started on the six hours' worth of exterior repairs, Jeffrey Williams and James Voss emerged from Atlantis a little early. The space station, anchored in the shuttle cargo bay, towered above them.

''Look at that space station,'' marveled Voss.

The men quickly made their way to a loose crane that needed to be secured.

The 5-foot construction crane was installed on the space station by another pair of spacewalkers last spring. But it was never locked properly into its socket, allowing it to swivel back and forth.

Williams and Voss removed the crane from its socket, then pushed it back in tight with a twist. They tugged at it, and it was no longer wobbling. ''All right!'' they shouted.

Williams and Voss also had to finish assembling a much larger Russian crane and replace a failed antenna. The initial pieces of this crane, 50 feet when fully extended, were installed by last year's spacewalkers.

The cranes will be used by future crews to move large items around the outside of the orbiting complex, which NASA hopes will eventually extend the length of a football field and top 460 tons.

For now, the space station jutting out of the shuttle cargo bay is 77 feet long and a modest 35 tons. Construction is on hold until the Russians launch their long-delayed service module; liftoff is targeted for July.

The six Americans and one Russian aboard Atlantis cheered, shook hands and patted one another on the back after the shuttle pulled up to the space station early Sunday morning. Commander James Halsell Jr. guided the shuttle in for the smooth docking.

''It's hard to make it look any easier than the crew made it look,'' said NASA's lead flight director, Phil Engelauf.

The hatches will remain sealed between Atlantis and the space station until Monday night. Once they're opened, the astronauts will immediately begin replacing dying batteries on the Russia side of the station, which was launched in November 1998.

Four of six batteries must be replaced along with their associated electronics. The crew also must remove three fire extinguishers, four fans and 10 smoke detectors, all beyond their warranties, and put in fresh units.

In all, more than 1,000 pounds of gear must be hauled into the space station for use by future crews.

The earliest anyone will move in is November, 2 years late because of the conspicuous absence of Russia's service module. The module, once launched, will serve as crew quarters until fancier accommodations arrive in 2005.

''Getting this thing built is not easy,'' Voss, a future space station resident, said before the flight. ''We do have frustrations, but we understand those and we live with them.''


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