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Rip ends space walk early
A torn glove sends astronaut inside; NASA still is considering fixing gouge in shuttle.
By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published August 16, 2007
CAPE CANAVERAL - An astronaut's ripped glove forced an early end to a space walk Wednesday, and NASA put off a decision on whether to order risky repairs for a deep gouge on shuttle Endeavour's belly.
After nearly a week of agonizing over the gouge, NASA indicated that it was close to wrapping up tests and would decide today if repairs were needed.
One of the astronauts who would attempt those repairs, Rick Mastracchio, had to cut his latest space walk short after he noticed a hole in his left glove.
The long rip in the thumb penetrated only the two outer layers of the five-layer glove, and he was never in any danger, Mission Control said. Nevertheless, he was ordered back inside, and his space walk partner quickly finished what he was doing and followed him in.
The unprecedented patching job on Endeavour, if approved, would be performed on the next space walk, now set for Saturday, a day later than originally planned to give engineers more time to analyze the situation. That could keep Endeavour and its crew of seven, including teacher-astronaut Barbara Morgan, at the space station at least an extra day.
Preliminary results indicated no need for fixing the gouge, but mission managers were withholding judgment until the completion of heat-blasting tests on the ground. "At the moment, they don't have all the data they would like to make their decision," Mission Control told the astronauts Wednesday night.
The 3 1/2-inch-long, 2-inch-wide gouge - the result of a debris strike at liftoff - is in two of the thousands of black tiles that cover Endeavour's belly and guard against the 2,000-plus-degree temperatures of atmospheric re-entry. The exposed area and the gouge itself are so small that NASA is not worried about a Columbia-type catastrophe at flight's end. Rather, the concern is that if too much heat enters the crevice, the underlying aluminum structure might be damaged enough to warrant lengthy post-flight repairs.