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The Russians saved, the astronauts are forced to fix

The astronauts and cosmonauts of Atlantis opened the door, turned on the lights, breathed the air, and then went to work to assemble the 13-story launch station into something that resembled a home.

The arduous work lasted three and a half hours, at the end of which Atlantis commander Tres Wilcott and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Melanchenko made their way to the hatch of the shuttle's deck.

NASA will launch more shuttles into space

"It's beautiful," Wilcott said when he entered the station headquarters. Last night Malenchenko and astronaut Edward Lu completed a six-and-a-half-hour ``rotation'' in space, where they connected a series of cables that will link the station headquarters to the American power supply system and communication systems.
The space agency NASA is planning about 20 rounds of spacewalks in the next 12 to 18 months, as the construction of the station progresses. Although in recent years NASA has launched three-four space shuttles per year, the space agency hopes to increase the pace to about nine launches per year during the completion of the construction of the space station.

Previous update 12.9.2000
Space Center, Houston (AP). In six hours and 14 minutes yesterday, an American astronaut and a Russian cosmonaut, who left the space shuttle "Atlantis", managed to climb onto the International Space Station. The two - Edvar Lo and Yuri Malenchenko - carried rolled cables and tools on their backs.
They were sent to fulfill three missions: balance the Russian service unit, "Zvezda", of the International Space Station; placing a 1.7 meter long arm designed for a compass; and installing television and information cables between this unit and another Russian unit, "Zarya".

When the Russians built the unit, they installed the compass - which measures the Earth's magnetic field - too close to the metal body of "Zvezda". The problematic location of the compass caused the distortion of the received data. According to Mike Hess, who oversaw the shuttle mission from a control room on Earth, NASA asked the Russians to install an arm that would move the compass away, but the Russian space program refused to do so due to a lack of budget.

Yesterday, NASA discovered another problem with the Zvzda: a solar surface on one of the unit's wings was stuck. The surface did not fold after lifting the unit from Earth and the astronauts will probably have to deal with this problem next time.

The two astronauts walked about 33 meters, until they reached the cargo dock of "Atlantis" - the docking place of the space station. This is the greatest distance ever walked by an American astronaut while tethered. Lu, who is his first spacewalk, said that "I was able to see an amazing view from the back of the shuttle." His mission partner is more experienced: he performed similar walks while living on the "Mir" space station.

To reach the upper part of the station, the cosmonaut and the astronaut were carried on a robotic arm of the shuttle, 12 meters long. Then they climbed using ropes - similar to mountain climbers - until they reached their destination.

To avoid obstacles such as antennas and docking points, the astronaut Daniel Burbank, who was watching what was happening from the cockpit of the crossings, guided the two with instructions such as "Be careful of the heads, do not move to the right".

The mission, which was carried out without a hitch, ended 16 minutes before the allotted time. When he returned to Atlantis, Hess said that "there isn't much to do on the space station and probably won't be until the next crew goes up there."

Atlantis connected with the station on Tuesday after a two-day chase, complicated by problems with the shuttle's navigational equipment, while the station was cruising over Kazakhstan. The shuttle even took the opportunity of being connected to the space station to give it a 5 km boost in its trajectory.

Today the seven astronauts and cosmonauts of Atlantis will enter the station to equip it with thousands of kilograms of supplies intended for the first inhabitants of the station, who are supposed to arrive in November. On October 5, the space shuttle "Discovery" is expected to go on another preparatory mission for the manning of the station. At the John F. Kennedy Space Center in Florida, NASA has already moved the shuttle to the launch facility.
{Appeared in Haaretz newspaper, 12/9/2000{

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