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Space shuttle astronauts run into electrical problem

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The international space station is visible through a camera mounted in Discovery's docking port as the two crafts prepare to dock over the coast of Argentina Friday, Oct. 13, 2000. Astronauts working in teams of two will perform four spacewalks this mission as construction on the international space station continues.(AP Photo)

October 15, 2000 


SPACE CENTER (AP) - The crew of space shuttle Discovery begins a week of demanding orbital construction work Saturday, starting with the installation of an aluminum truss onto the international space station.

Before the astronauts could install the framework, however, they ran into electrical trouble. A short apparently took out some of the cameras in the shuttle cargo bay that Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata had planned to use to attach the truss to the space station.

"What timing, huh?" said commander Brian Duffy.

Mission Control told the crew to hold off on their work and debated how best to proceed. Duffy suggested a way to work around the problem, saying Wakata could use alternate cameras and detailed pictures to hook the framework onto the station.

"We're pretty optimistic down here, too, but we're kind of proceeding slowly," Mission Control said.

Once he gets the go-ahead, Wakata will use the shuttle robot arm to lift the boxlike truss from Discovery's cargo bay and attach it to the space station. The truss holds four motion-control gyroscopes and two antennas, and will serve as the base for solar wings to be installed by the next shuttle crew. The solar wings will eventually provide more power to the growing station.

Wakata, who operated the robot arm on a 1996 mission, will crank up the arm again to move a docking port from Discovery to the space station Monday. The port will be used for future shuttle visits.

A television camera mounted on Discovery's robot arm beamed down this image of the cargo bay as the shuttle orbits 237 miles above the Earth Friday, Oct. 13, 2000.(AP Photo/NASA TV)

A pair of two-astronaut teams will make the necessary connections between the new segments and the space station during four back-to-back spacewalks, starting Sunday.

Most of the exterior work, which ordinarily is beamed to Earth via live video, won't be visible on the ground, thanks to a broken shuttle antenna. The lack of live, continuous video will be especially apparent during the four spacewalks that get under way Sunday.

NASA gave up trying to fix the antenna Friday and declared the dish unusable for the rest of the 11-day mission.

Flight director Chuck Shaw said the problem seems to be with an electronics component, but engineers will not know for sure what broke until the antenna system is inspected back on Earth.

All necessary messages and files were getting through via Discovery's slow antenna. "It's like working with a slower modem," Shaw explained.

The broken antenna, which is also used for shuttle navigation on station approaches, did not prevent commander Brian Duffy and pilot Pam Melroy from executing a smooth station rendezvous Friday morning.

Once the two spacecraft were tightly joined, the astronauts ventured into the space station to collect air samples and drop off supplies.

The work by Discovery's crew has to be completed before the space station's first residents can move in. NASA astronaut Bill Shepherd and his two-cosmonaut crew are scheduled to lift off Oct. 30 aboard a Russian rocket. They will spend four months on the station.

Discovery will remain attached to the space station until Oct. 20. The shuttle is scheduled to return to Earth on Oct. 22.


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