CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Astronauts worked both inside and outside the International Space Station Tuesday, preparing it for the new Expedition Two crew, which is beginning a four-month stay.
Spacewalkers Andrew Thomas and Paul Richards from the space shuttle Discovery added final touches to a platform that will support a new Canadian-built robot arm when it arrives next month.
They worked in the vacuum of space for almost 6.5 hours. Among other tasks, they prodded a balky locking pin into position on one of the station's solar array wings and joined some power connections between the solar-power generating station and the Destiny laboratory module, which was added to the station last month.
"We're looking good here," Thomas said as he and Richards floated outside the 17-story space station.
Inside the station, the handover between the station's inaugural crew and their replacements continued. American William Shepherd and Russians Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalyov are to return to Earth with the shuttle crew when they depart the station Saturday.
They will leave behind the Expedition Two crew of Yury Usachev, Susan Helms and James Voss.
Including shuttle commander James Wetherbee and pilot James Kelly, there are a total of 10 astronauts at work, making this the busiest the space station has ever been. Before, eight was the largest number posted there.
Richards, a space rookie, took time to admire the view from 237 miles up on this, his first spacewalk, or EVA in space-agency jargon, for extra-vehicular activity.
"Everything everybody ever said about being out on EVA and looking down is true," Richards said.
While Tuesday's spacewalk, the second of this mission, was under way, Shepherd, Usachev and Voss were busy unloading the Leonardo cargo module.
The $150 million, Italian-built module, carrying supplies and equipment for the new crew, rode to space in Discovery's payload bay and is now mated to the station's Unity module.
The cargo module, making its first trip into space, will be returned to the shuttle for the ride back to Earth. It was built to make about 25 such round trips.
The hardware brought up on this mission includes command stations for the robot arm. There's also a kind of mini emergency room for sick or injured astronauts, with everything from aspirin for minor aches and pains, to a defibrillator to restart stopped hearts. Leonardo also carries the most sophisticated science equipment to arrive thus far, the Human Research Facility for studying the long-term effects of near weightlessness on astronauts bodies.
The station has been staffed since the Expedition One crew arrived on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft Nov. 2. The United States, Russia, and their partners in Europe, Japan, and Canada see the space station has the first foothold in their goal to occupy outer space permanently.
NASA, the U.S. space agency, plans to spend $95 billion building and operating the station for a decade or more.