Two astronauts from the U.S. space shuttle Endeavour walked in space Monday to perform maintenance on the International Space Station's big solar panels. The combined shuttle and station crews also took time out from their duties to honor the victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
Endeavour crew members Linda Godwin and Daniel Tani ventured outside the shuttle to wrap blankets around motors that position the station's solar arrays toward the sun.
The motors have stalled occasionally because of power surges. U.S. space agency engineers believe the temperature extremes of space may be causing the problem by distorting the motor bearings, so they have recommended covering the motors with the insulating blankets.
If this approach fails, space station flight director Sally Davis says another spacewalk will be required on a shuttle visit next year to replace the motors. "We're hoping to look at the data and make a decision in January whether we need to change the motors or if the blankets themselves are taking care of the problem," she said. "Our hope is the blankets will take care of the problem with the motor stalls."
Endeavour flight directors have added an extra day to the mission, which means it will now undock from the station Saturday. The shuttle brought a new U.S.-Russian crew to the outpost and tons of supplies for their five month stay. Russian commander Yury Onufrienko is now in charge, supported by U.S. astronauts Dan Bursch and Carl Walz.
Several hours before the spacewalk began, the Endeavour and space station teams gathered for a solemn ceremony to commemorate those killed when terrorists attacked New York and Washington in September.
Outgoing station commander Frank Culbertson said he and his two cosmonaut colleagues, Mikhail Tyurin and Vladimir Dezhurov observed the smoke from the terrorist airplane crashes into New York's World Trade Center and U.S. military headquarters. "That was quite a disturbing sight, as you can imagine, to see my country under attack," he said. "To all of those who lost loved ones, to all of those who worked so hard to help people survive, and to the people who are trying so hard to stop this threat, we wish you the best."
Endeavour is carrying 6,000 small U.S. flags that will be presented to the families of the terrorism victims when Endeavour returns from orbit. Also aboard are larger flags rescued from the burning Defense Department and from the World Trade Center.
"Just like our country, it is a bit bruised and battered and torn," Shuttle Commander Dom Gorie said of the World Trade Center flag. "With a little repair, it is going to fly high and as beautiful as it ever did, and that is just what our country is doing."
The space shuttle is also carrying New York City police badges and patches and a New York Fire Department flag to honor the police officers and fire fighters who died when the World Trade Center collapsed.