Mission specialists Joe Tanner and Heide Stefanyshyn-Piper focused on bolts, connectors and power tools today as they began the first of three spacewalks to hook-up and activate a 17.5 ton, 45 foot long truss with a set of solar arrays that will increase the station’s power.
The first spacewalk of the mission began when Tanner and Piper switched their spacesuits to battery power and stepped into the void of space. This was Tanner’s sixth spacewalk and Piper’s first. Piper is the eighth woman, the seventh American woman, to walk in space.
The two set to work quickly and efficiently, making the tough tasks look simple and easily getting ahead of the planned timeline. After only three and a half hours, Tanner and Piper were near completion of the day’s tasks and Mission Control Houston began working on "get ahead" tasks. These are tasks that were originally scheduled for the second spacewalk Wednesday.
One of these tasks involved removing the launch locks from the Solar Alpha Rotary Joint (SARJ). To access the launch locks, spacewalkers must also remove existing covers. As Tanner removed cover 21, a bolt and washer came off and floated into space.
During the early morning hours, Mission Control told Atlantis Commander Brent Jett and his crew that a focused inspection of the shuttle's heat shield is not needed at this time. The decision means an extra mission day is not required, and the crew can continue with its planned 11-day mission.
Throughout the day, other crew members supported the spacewalk activities, transferred equipment and supplies between the two spacecraft and got ready for tomorrow’s walk by mission specialists Dan Burbank and Canadian Steve MacLean.
Tanner and Piper connected power cables on the truss, released the launch restraints on the Solar Array Blanket Box and on the Beta Gimbal Assembly -- the structure between the truss electronics -- and the Solar Array Wings. The astronauts also configured the Solar Alpha Rotary Joint, which allows the arrays to track the sun, and removed two other circuit interrupt devices to prepare for the upcoming STS-116 mission.