The international space station spread its fourth and final set of solar wings on Friday.
The seven visiting astronauts from the shuttle Discovery unfurled a pair of 115-foot blue and gold solar panels from a $298 million component they bolted to the orbiting laboratory on Thursday.
They finished unfolding the panels at midday, absent the drama that has marked the previous installations of three similar power modules. The fragile panels, fashioned from the plastic electrical insulator Kapton and silicon solar cells, have stuck together, snagged and, in one case, ripped when they were unfolded with remote commands issued by astronauts inside the station or from Mission Control.
“It all looks good. We are fully deployed,” Lee Archambault, Discovery’s commander, radioed Mission Control as the operation came to a close in just over two hours.
NASA had allotted up to five-and-a-half hours for the task and was prepared to send spacewalking astronauts out to troubleshoot problems today.
“We all like the station’s new look,” said a relieved Mission Control communicator. “Great work.”
“It went out without a hitch,” said space station commander Mike Fincke, who is nearing the end of a six-month tour on the outpost. Later, he described his emotions as he watched the operation with his face pressed against a window of the station. “I don’t think it was a sigh of relief, as much as it was a shout of triumph,” he said.
Discovery lifted off with the power module on Sunday and delivered it to the station two days later.
The power system will generate enough electricity to power 42 three-bedroom homes. On the station, the electricity will run the life-support systems for a half-dozen astronauts as well as scientific experiments in the station’s Japanese, European and American labs.
Home to no more than three astronauts since 2000, the facility is poised to grow to six tenants in late May.
Today, astronauts Steve Swanson and Joe Acaba, a former teacher, will undertake the second of the Discovery mission’s spacewalks. They plan to perform maintenance on the station’s oldest solar power component. They also will install a navigation antenna for a Japanese cargo ship that is expected to be launched in September.
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I just finished watchin it shortly after 9 PM......nice sight...