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February 11, 2008

The best laid plans...

Posted: 12:41 PM ET

Things didn't QUITE go as expected for NASA this weekend 200 miles overhead ... though the shuttle Atlantis' rendezvous and docking with the International Space Station went off without a hitch on Saturday.

About half of all astronauts experience some nausea the first couple of days in orbit, with symptoms usually subsiding in time for everyone to get down to the tasks of the mission. That was apparently not the case with German spacewalker Hans Schlegel. The crew requested two private medical conferences with flight surgeons on Saturday, and at the end of the day fight controllers announced that the first spacewalk of the mission, then scheduled for Sunday, would be postponed to today. They also announced Schlegel would be replaced on that spacewalk by fellow astronaut Stan Love.

Citing medical privacy policy, NASA officially refuses to release any details of Schlegel's physical condition. Sources tell us, though, that he just had a particularly bad case of motion sickness. NASA TV showed live pictures of him on Sunday helping Love and Rex Walheim prep their spacesuits and tools for the spacewalk, and he looked like he was doing much better. As of now, the plan is for him to resume his duties for the second spacewalk of the mission, scheduled for Wednesday.

On today's spacewalk, Love and Walheim are installing a grapple fixture to the exterior of the European Columbus Module. Robotic arm operator Leland Melvin will then use the station's robotic arm to grab Columbus, remove it from Atlantis' cargo bay, and attach it to the starboard side of the Harmony node.

I never get tired of watching the shuttle's back flip, or Rendezvous Pitch Maneuver, as it approaches the station from below - and on Saturday Commander Steve Frickdid not disappoint. The purpose of the RPM is to expose the orbiter's underside to the ISS so that station crew members can take high resolution photos of the tiles that clad the belly - looking for any signs of damage that might have happened during launch. The early read from the shuttle's Mission Management Team is that those tiles are in great shape - as is the carbon composite material that shields the wing leading edges and nose cap. Engineers are still looking at a ripped thermal blanket on Atlantis' right OMS pod. This is not a huge deal - no threat to crew safety - but the NASA folks may decide to send an astronaut over to pat it back down and staple it in place during an upcoming spacewalk in order to minimize the heating to that part of the shuttle during the super-hot temperatures of re-entry. Atlantis will next fly the high-profile Hubble Servicing Mission in August, and the less work that has to be spent back in the hanger fixing little things the better.

-Kate Tobin, Senior Producer, CNN Science & Technology

Filed under: NASA

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Rick S   February 11th, 2008 3:49 pm ET

Columbus on its way to its berthing port on the International Space Station as of this post... 🙂

Richard   February 12th, 2008 3:37 pm ET

I can't wait for the Hubble repair mission in August. I find any shuttle mission fascinating, but it would be really interesting to see it go somewhere other than the Space Station.

And it is of course excellent news that NASA is doing this mission to extend Hubble's lifespan. It has redefined our view of space with the beautiful pictures it has been sending back, so it would be such a shame to let it die, or whatever telescopes do. 🙂


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