Astronauts on board the International Space Station released a mini-satellite and installed new communication antennae during a four-hour space walk yesterday. They finished their tasks just before the station's overloaded gyroscopes caused the station to drift and roll slightly.
That station should have three gyros, but one has been out of service for the last two weeks because of a circuit breaker failure. The two remaining gyros have had to pick up the slack, and will continue to carry the extra load until a the problem is repaired by visiting astronauts, slated to arrive in two months' time.
NASA said that the station was without attitude control for less than 20 minutes, and that the crew was in no danger, according to Associated Press reports. Once the two spacewalkers were at a safe distance, the jets were reactivated, stabilising the station.
Flight engineer Salizhan Sharipov released the satellite about two hours into the walk, while mission commander Leroy Chiao photographed its departure. The foot-long, so-called nanosatellite will transmit data on its manoeuvres to scientists as it orbits the earth. The information will be used to develop better control techniques for small craft and new attitude sensor systems. Russian scientists reported that the tiny orbiter had sent a good signal two hours after its deployment.
Spacewalks now leave the station completely empty, since the grounding of Shuttle means there are only two, instead of the usual three, astronauts aboard. The stations systems were either switched off or set to autonomous mode during the walk. ®