The first U.S. segment of the International Space Station came to life Monday night as the Unity module was activated for the first time. Activation followed the connection of electrical and data cables by Astronauts Jerry Ross and Jim Newman during a 7-hour, 21-minute space walk.
Working smoothly and ahead of schedule, Ross and Newman mated 40 cables and connectors running 76 feet from the Zarya Control Module to Unity as the 35-ton station towered over the cargo bay of the shuttle Endeavour.
The two veteran space walkers began their excursion at 4:10 p.m. Central time, quickly pressing ahead with the connection of crucial data and power cables between Zarya and Unity. Ross and Newman also installed handrails and other hardware that will help future space walkers move around the station on upcoming assembly missions, completing all of the connections within three hours. At various times, robot arm operator Nancy Currie moved Ross and Newman around the station modules on the end of the shuttle's manipulator system to conduct their work.
As Endeavour and the International Space Station passed over Russian ground stations, commands were sent from the Russian flight control team to activate a pair of Russian-American voltage converters, enabling power to flow from Zarya to Unity for the first time. International Space Station flight controllers in Houston saw Unity's systems come to life at 9:49 p.m., confirming perfect electrical continuity between the two modules. Unity's systems were then activated, including a pair of data relay boxes serving as the brain and nervous system for the U.S.-built component. Near the end of the space walk, Ross removed thermal covers from the relay boxes after Unity's heaters began to control the module's temperature.
With Pilot Rick Sturckow serving as the space walk choreographer, Newman was raised on the robot arm to the Zarya module to take a close look at a pair of Russian rendezvous antennas that did not fully deploy following the module's launch on Nov. 20. The so-called TORU system serves as a backup to the automatic Kurs system on Zarya, providing navigational data for spacecraft approaching the Russian component for docking. Russian flight controllers say the TORU antennas are emitting signal strength, but space station managers wanted additional engineering data so can decide on a course of action for deploying the antennas.
Shortly before the space walk ended, Ross broke the record for most cumulative extravehicular activity time by a U.S. astronaut of 29 hours and 41 minutes previously held by former astronaut Tom Akers during five space walks on STS-49 and STS-61. Ross, who completed his fifth space walk tonight, now has 30 hours and 8 minutes of time spent in the void of space.
Endeavour's astronauts will begin an eight-hour sleep period at 3:36 a.m. Central time and be awakened at 11:36 a.m. to begin their sixth day in orbit. The astronauts plan to raise the altitude of the International Space Station by about 3 1/2 statute miles Tuesday by firing Endeavour's jets in the first of two planned reboost maneuvers. The crew also will take half a day off to relax and enjoy the view from orbit after a busy start to the first International Space Station assembly flight.
Endeavour and the station are orbiting at an altitude of 242 statute miles with all systems in excellent shape.
The next STS-88 mission status report is scheduled after crew wake up later this morning.
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