The third and final space walk of the flight by astronauts Jerry Ross and Jim Newman began at 2:33 p.m. Central time Saturday. Working close to the timeline, Ross and Newman accomplished all of the tasks planned for the excursion. The astronauts stowed a tool bag on the U.S.-built Unity connecting module and disconnected umbilicals used to drive the docking mechanisms that mated it with the Russian-built Zarya control module last week. They also installed a handrail on Zarya for use by future space walkers, and a made a detailed photographic survey of the station for review by engineers over the next several months.
Standing at the end of the shuttle's robot arm, Ross duplicated the accomplishment of Newman last Wednesday, freeing a jammed backup rendezvous system antenna on Zarya with a grappling hook. Ross found the antenna to be a bit stubborn, but after tapping it and nudging it several times, the antenna finally rolled out from its spool to the fully deployed position.
Before returning to Endeavour's airlock, Ross and Newman also tested out jet-powered backpacks they wore for use in the unlikely event they could become untethered during station assembly work. The jet packs seemed to use a bit more nitrogen gas than had been planned, but flight controllers said the engineering objectives of the brief test were met.
In all, Ross and Newman spent 21 hours and 22 minutes outside Endeavour in the initial assembly of the station. Ross now has completed seven space walks totaling 44 hours and 9 minutes, more than any other American space walker. Newman moved into third place on the all-time U.S. space-walking list, with a total of 28 hours and 27 minutes on four excursions.
After the space walk ended, Pilot Rick Sturckow depressurized the vestibule between Endeavour's docking system and the docking adapter at the base of Unity, setting the stage for today's undocking from the International Space Station at 2:25 p.m. Central time.
Sturckow will be at the controls of Endeavour during undocking, backing the shuttle away to a distance of 450 feet above the station before beginning a nose-forward fly-around. One and a half revolutions of the station are expected to provide ample time for the astronauts to conduct a detailed photographic survey of the outpost. Sturckow will fire Endeavour's jets at 3:52 p.m. to separate from the station, leaving it to fly unpiloted for the next five months. The next visit to the station will be by the STS-96 crew in May on an assembly and resupply mission.
Endeavour's astronauts began an eight-hour sleep period at 2:36 a.m. and will awaken at 10:36 a.m. Central time to begin preparations for undocking.
Endeavour and the station are orbiting at an altitude of 247 statute miles with all systems in excellent shape.