NASA Plans Spacewalk To Fix Ripped Solar Wing

NASA engineers are planning

some big Saturday chores for the astronauts at the international

space station.

The centerpiece project is a spacewalk to try to fix a couple of

rips in a solar panel. It tore while being unfurled by astronauts

Tuesday, apparently snagging a support for one of the solar wing's

guide wires. Engineers don't want to reel it in for fear of causing

further damaging, and the station's robot arm is too short to reach

the torn section. So NASA plans to attach the shuttle inspection

boom to the arm and send one of the astronauts up on it to free the

snag.

Space station program manager Mike Suffredini says ignoring the

wing damage could allow the problem to worsen and possibly lose its

ability to collect power. If that happens, it would have to be

junked.

The other major issue also involves the space station's power

supply. A rotary joint that allows another set of solar panels to

turn toward the sun is snarled. The astronauts had planned to

inspect it on a spacewalk today, but that's been put off to deal

with the rips.