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Jammed solar panel responds to astronaut

Published December 17, 2006


CAPE CANAVERAL - A pair of space walkers manually shaking a stubborn solar array managed to free some stuck grommets Saturday, but not enough to fold the array up into a box properly.

The array was more than half retracted when astronauts Robert Curbeam and Sunita Williams approached it after completing their main space walk tasks. After scores of shakes and remote control commands to retract, the array folded several degrees, eventually retracting about 65 percent.

"We really commend you for a tremendous effort," Mission Control radioed to the astronauts. They clocked a marathon 7-hour, 31-minute space walk, with the last two hours spent on the array.

Curbeam and Williams made progress on a problem that has vexed NASA since Wednesday. Earlier in the day, the space agency approved conducting a fourth, unplanned space walk if astronauts were unable to get the accordionlike array to fold up into a box properly. The pair pushed on the box, shaking the 115-foot array in an attempt to loosen wire tension and free stuck grommets.

It is unclear whether NASA will go forth with another space walk. If carried out Monday, it would delay space shuttle Discovery's landing at the Kennedy Space Center by a day to Friday.

The partially retracted solar wing was part of the space station's temporary power system. A primary goal of Discovery's visit to the station was to rewire the lab and hook a new set of solar wings delivered in September onto the permanent electricity grid. To do that, NASA needed to retract the old solar panel so that the new ones had room to rotate with the movement of the sun to maximize the amount of electricity generated.

[Last modified December 17, 2006, 00:26:51]

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