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US: Astronauts on first space walk of Endeavour mission

By Jean-Louis Santini
Sun Jul 19 04:48:01 EST 2009

WASHINGTON, July 18 AFP - Two astronauts from the US space shuttle Endeavour have ventured out for the first of five planned spacewalks aimed at completing a Japanese laboratory at the International Space Station.

Tim Kopra, who was making his first space walk, and Dave Wolf, an old hand with four walks under his belt, emerged from the decompression chamber of the International Space Station (ISS) at 1619 GMT on Saturday (0219 AEST Sunday), 20 minutes later than scheduled, NASA television said.

They were set to prepare the installation of a third and final piece of the Japanese Kibo lab, brought up in the Endeavour's cargo bay.

The 1.9-tonne porch-like section to be used for experiments in the vacuum of space will be attached to Kibo's two pressurised modules that were delivered to the ISS last year.

Once the pieces are ready the astronauts inside will manoeuvre Endeavour's robotic arms to put the section in place.

Saturday's space walk was expected to take over six hours.

Earlier on their first full day in space, the Endeavour crew inspected the spacesuits they will use in the five spacewalks planned during the mission.

The crew of six Americans and one Canadian also tested rendezvous equipment, installed a camera for the orbiter docking system and extended the docking ring that sits on top of the system.

The Endeavour mission aims to help fulfill "Japan's hope for an out-of-this-world space laboratory" as the shuttle delivers state-of-the-art equipment to conduct experiments in the vacuum of space, according to NASA.

Wolf and Kopra spent the night in the Quest airlock to reduce the preparation time needed for the walk.

On Friday the shuttle successfully docked at the space station amid questions about the integrity of the shuttle's heat shield.

During the delicate docking manoeuvre the two space vehicles traveled at 28,000km/h as they approached each other, giving Commander Mark Polansky a margin of error of 4.5cm to complete the procedure, NASA said.

The entry of Endeavour's crew aboard the ISS brought the number of astronauts inside the orbiting space station to a record 13.

Kopra will be staying aboard the ISS, taking over from Japanese engineer Koichi Wakata, who has been in space for 124 days.

The ISS should be completed in 2010, also the target date for the retirement of the US fleet of three space shuttles.