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Spacewalkers Unable To Fix Jammed Platform

Two astronauts went on a spacewalk together Monday, their path cleared of dangerous orbiting junk that had threatened the space station and shuttle.

But Astronauts Joseph Acaba and Richard Arnold II had no luck trying to free up a jammed equipment storage shelf at the international space station, one of their main tasks.

Using a hammer, they managed to loosen a pin that Acaba and another astronaut accidentally inserted upside down on the platform during Saturday's spacewalk. But the shelf mechanism would not extend into the proper position, despite repeated efforts.

"Three, two, one, go," Arnold called out as they tugged with all their might. "Negative."

Mission Control instructed the spacewalkers to tie the platform down using sturdy tethers so it won't bang around.

CBS News space consultant Bill Harwood reports that the spacewalkers strapped the mechanism down and pressed on with other tasks, including inspecting and lubricating a robot arm grapple fixture and replacing a coupler on a crew equipment cart.

It's the first time two former schoolteachers have been on a spacewalk together, and is the third and final spacewalk for shuttle Discovery's mission.

It's also the second time out the hatch for both Acaba and Arnold. Their previous outings were with another astronaut, and they took pleasure in sharing this one together. Both in their 40s, they were teaching when NASA picked them as astronauts in 2004.

Acaba said today's spacewalk was special. "We're classmates so it's pretty neat for us both to go out the door at the same time," reports Harwood.

The jammed storage platform is located on the left side of the space station framework that holds the solar wings. The platform is supposed to secure big spare parts that will be needed once NASA's shuttles stop flying in 2010.

Similar shelving is on the opposite side of the framework and also needs to be pulled out. Mission Control told the spacewalkers to skip that because of all the trouble with the first platform.

The spacewalkers, at least, managed to complete their first job of the day: moving a crew and equipment cart from one end of the space station to another.

As for space junk, it's becoming a growing concern for the 220-mile-high space station. Earlier this month, space station residents had to seek shelter in their emergency getaway capsule because of debris. Last week, the station almost had to dodge another piece of junk.

On Sunday, the linked shuttle-station complex had to move out of the way of a 4-inch piece of debris that had been projected to come perilously close during the spacewalk.

Discovery's astronauts said Sunday they don't think about space junk when they're outside. They said there are enough things to worry about, like keeping themselves and their tools tethered and getting the job done. There's always a risk tiny pieces of debris that can't be tracked from the ground could come zooming by.

The two crews will part Wednesday, and Discovery will aim for a touchdown back at NASA's spaceport Saturday.

For more info:

  • Discovery Mission (NASA)
  • Discovery STS-119 Status Report by Bill Harwood
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