Space station maintenance goes awry

Associated Press / May 23, 2011

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A spacewalking astronaut ran into trouble yesterday while trying to lubricate a joint in the life-sustaining solar power system of the International Space Station, losing one bolt and getting a washer stuck in a crevice.

Mike Fincke, one of NASA’s most experienced spacemen, had to settle for a partial lube job after the bolts holding down covers on the massive joint started popping off.

Fincke and his spacewalking partner, Andrew Feustel, managed to lubricate four sections of the joint, two fewer than planned, and reinstall three covers. The fourth cover was brought back inside because of all the loose bolts.

Their spacewalk — the second of four planned for shuttle Endeavour’s final space station visit — went one-and-a-half hours longer than planned. It lasted more than eight hours, the sixth longest in history.

Fincke was removing his first cover of the solar power system when a bolt popped out and got away from him. He caught it with his gloved hand, no easy task. But another bolt ended up floating away, and a washer got stuck between the cover and an attachment.

Mission Control worried the washer might get into the gears of the joint. Fincke was advised to use “gentle backhand sweeping motions’’ to get the washer away from the gears, and the astronaut said he would try to coax it out with a pin. He provided no further report, but the lead spacewalk officer in Mission Control, Allison Bolinger, later assured reporters he likely took care of it.

Endeavour is scheduled to return June 1.