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Space station's new air lock tweaked



By Amanda Barnett
CNN

(CNN) -- The space station's newly installed air lock has a slight air leak, but NASA sent the crews of both Alpha and the docked shuttle Atlantis to bed and said they could work on it later.

"It's not a sense of urgency," said NASA spokesman Ed Campion.

Alpha crewmember Jim Voss told mission managers on the ground that he could hear a very slight leak in the area around the air lock.

Crew members closed hatches to isolate the problem and mission control is preparing a checklist for the crew to use when they wake up later Monday, said Campion.

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The leak was detected sometime late Sunday or early Monday.

Earlier on Sunday, about a half liter of water spilled from a cooling loop as the crew members connected cooling lines between the air lock and the rest of the space station. NASA said air bubbles might have caused the leak.

"We were expecting a little bit of a leak," said Atlantis commander Steve Lindsey. "We got a little bit more out of one of the lines than we expected. We got towels on it right away."

As the crews cleaned up the spill, an alarm sounded in the Destiny laboratory when the cooling system briefly shut down. The system was later brought back on line.

The crews of both Atlantis and Alpha were awakened at 5:19 p.m. EDT. The wakeup song was "Nobody Does it Better" by Carly Simon.

The air lock can be seen sticking off the right side of Alpha in this picture
The air lock can be seen sticking off the right side of Alpha in this picture  

They will spend their workday trouble-shooting the air lock leak, connecting more cables from the air lock to the space station and preparing for two more spacewalks.

Mission specialists Mike Gernhardt and Jim Reilly, who spent about six hours spacewalking as the air lock was lifted from the cargo bay of Atlantis early Sunday, have a second spacewalk scheduled at 10 p.m. EDT Tuesday to install oxygen and nitrogen tanks on the air lock.

Then, on Thursday at 11:40 p.m. EDT, the pair will make a third spacewalk, this time using the new air lock for the first time.

Overall, the mission is going very well, according to Campion.

Installing the 6.5-ton air lock, named Quest, is the primary mission for Atlantis and its crew of five. Sunday's spacewalk started an hour late after Gernhardt and Reilly took longer than expected to get ready. But they finished on time -- it took only six hours, rather than the predicted seven, to do the day's scheduled tasks.

At one point while preparing the air lock for lifting from the shuttle's cargo bay, Gernhardt said, "It was like wrestling a 12-foot alligator and tying it up with a 20-foot snake."

The heavy lifting was then left to space station resident astronaut Susan Helms, who used the station's new robot arm to pluck Quest from the shuttle's cargo bay.

It was the first real workout for the robot arm, which had computer problems that had delayed the Atlantis air lock mission. But Helms said the arm worked fine.

"We had nothing go wrong. It was flawless," said Helms in a news conference from orbit.

The air lock, a two-room chamber, will allow space station crews to venture outside without the assistance of a visiting shuttle. Currently, crews must exit from the Russian segment of the outpost wearing Russian spacesuits.

Atlantis launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Thursday. The shuttle is scheduled to land at the space center on July 23 at around 1 a.m. EDT.

The five Atlantis astronauts are the space station's first visitors in more than two months. Helms, Voss and Russian commander Yury Usachev are scheduled to be relieved by another three-person crew in August.






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