KOROLYOV, Russia – A U.S. astronaut and a Russian cosmonaut folded up a jutting antenna on a cargo ship docked to the international space station Thursday during an arduous spacewalk made tougher by a malfunction that raised the temperature in the Russian's suit.
Michael Lopez-Alegria and Mikhail Tyurin ventured outside the orbiting station to free up the stuck antenna on a Russian Progress cargo ship in preparation for undocking the unmanned vessel in early April to make room for rendezvous with the spacecraft delivering the next crew.
His vision obscured by a fogged-up faceplate, Tyurin breathed heavily as he wielded space scissors — something like a pair of garden shears — and laboriously cut metal tubes that held the antenna in place.
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One of two cuts necessary to get the job done went awry, forcing Tyurin to make a third try before he finally freed the antenna.
Had Lopez-Alegria and Tyurin failed to fold the antenna, they would have been forced to cut it off, Mission Control spokesman Valery Lyndin told The Associated Press.
Not long after the pair floated out of the station, mission control told the Russian that his suit's temperature control system was not working as well as it should — and that he would have go back inside if it became too hot to work.
"Please pay attention to your condition while you work," Mission Control told Tyurin. "If you feel it's too hot, then take a break."
"One who knows something about life is never in a hurry," the cosmonaut responded.
When the pair reached the malfunctioning antenna, they first tried to free it with a few hammer blows — but that didn't do the trick.
Mission Control suggested Lopez-Alegria wield the scissors because of Tyurin's suit trouble, but the Russian said he was in a better position to do the work.
The task took Tyurin about an hour of strenuous effort, hindered by fog that formed his faceplate. At Mission Control's suggestion, the cosmonaut rubbed his nose against the glass to wipe off some of the condensation.
The fog cleared a bit when Tyurin took a breather.
"It's not always bad," he said. "When I move a bit less, it dries up a little."
The cosmonaut expressed mild impatience during lengthy exchanges with officials at Mission Control, located in the city of Korolyov, just northeast of Moscow. He suggested a few times that the work might go more quickly without so many instructions.
"Are we going to cut or are we going to talk?" he said at one point.
At Mission Control, Nikolai Sevastyanov, the chief of Russian spacecraft manufacturer Energiya, said the antenna had to be folded up before the cargo ship could undock.
"We needed to fold this antenna so it doesn't obstruct the undocking," he said.
The unmanned Progress must make room for a manned Soyuz craft, scheduled to arrive in early April with the station's new crew.
The cargo ship docked smoothly with the station in October, but the antenna got stuck in a railing, prevented the vessel from mooring completely for several tense hours. During an earlier spacewalk, the crew was unable to free the antenna.
Their main job accomplished, Lopez-Alegria and Tyurin collected scientific experiments mounted on the outside of the station and photographed an optical panel designed to aid docking the future docking of a European cargo ship.
The spacewalk was the 10th for Lopez-Alegria, who set a U.S. record for total time in space — 61 hours and 22 minutes — earlier this month when he and fellow American Sunita Williams performed maintenance work on the station.
Astronaut Jerry Ross, who has made nine space walks, held the previous U.S. record, while Russian cosmonaut Anatoly Solovyov holds the world mark with more than 82 hours.
Williams stayed inside the station, where she monitored her crew mates" movements and maintained contact with Mission Control.
Unmanned Progress ships regularly ferry supplies to the station. Shortly before a new cargo ship is launched, the old one — filled with garbage — is removed and dumped in the ocean to free the station's docking port.