CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., Nov 9 (Reuters) The commander of the International Space Station and her Russian flight engineer completed a 6-1/2-hour spacewalk today to finish a handful of tasks postponed from space shuttle Discovery's recent mission to the orbital outpost.
The shuttle returned to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Wednesday after a hectic 15-day flight. The astronauts delivered and installed a new vestibule to the station so laboratories owned by Europe and Japan can be hooked on beginning next month.
They also relocated an 18-tonne section of the station's backbone which contains a massive pair of solar wing panels.
An emergency repair to one of the wings, which ripped as it was being re-extended, prompted NASA to drop a spacewalk needed to prepare the shuttle's docking port for relocation to the new module, known as Harmony.
Peggy Whitson and cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko had planned to tackle that job while Discovery was still berthed at the station. But when the solar panel tore, jeopardizing the future expansion of the station, NASA decided to forego Whitson and Malenchenko's spacewalk and use the shuttle crew to fix the broken wing instead.
The task, which was the primary goal of Friday's spacewalk, was added to the station crew's already jammed lineup of work that must be complete before Europe's Columbus module is launched.
NASA is targeting Columbus' flight aboard space shuttle Atlantis for December 6, but needs to shave off about five days of work from the station crew's schedule to make that date, said station flight director Holly Ridings.
During Friday's spacewalk, Whitson and Malenchenko disconnected electrical cables that route station power to visiting shuttles and unplugged other electrical connections between the shuttle's docking port and the Destiny laboratory. The pair encountered a few problems during their outing, including attaching a balky handrail which flight directors decided to leave off.
The next step is for station flight engineer Dan Tani to use the complex's mobile robotic crane to move the shuttle's docking port from the Destiny laboratory and attach it to the end of the Harmony module, a task slated for early on Monday.
Two days later, the node and attached docking adapter will be moved to their permanent location on Destiny.
Whitson and Tani then have two more spacewalks planned to hook up power, cooling and data lines to Harmony.
''Basically, we're taking our plan a couple weeks at a time now,'' said Ridings. ''Our focus is to keep the (shuttle) launch in December and it'd be great if we can make the beginning of that window.'' REUTERS YA RAI2330