CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida – Astronauts working inside and out installed a porch for experiments on Japan's enormous space station lab Saturday, accomplishing the major objective despite microphone static that often drowned out the spacewalkers' voices.
Veteran spaceman David Wolf and rookie Timothy Kopra could barely make themselves understood at times because of the loud static emanating from their helmet microphones.
"Dave, you're unreadable," astronaut Christopher Cassidy called from inside the shuttle-station complex.
Two hours later, it was no better. "It's hard to follow along with this comm," Cassidy said, looking for clarification on what the spacewalkers were doing. The trouble lasted the entire 5 1/2-hour spacewalk, the first of five planned during Endeavour's space station visit.
NASA officials said it was a nuisance but not a safety issue, and they hoped to resolve the problem before the next spacewalk on Monday.
Indeed, Wolf and Kopra wasted no time 220 miles (354 kilometers) up prepping the Kibo lab — Hope in Japanese — and the new porch for their mechanical hookup. Wolf removed an insulating cover from the lab and tossed it overboard; the white cover drifted away, flipping end over end.
The spacewalkers then moved on to other routine work at the international space station as their colleagues inside used the shuttle and station robot arms, one at a time, to lift the Japanese porch from Endeavour's payload bay and hoist it toward the Kibo lab. The spacewalk was over by the time the porch was finally latched in place.
It marked the completion of Japan's $1 billion lab, so big that it required three shuttle flights to launch everything. The first two sections of the lab flew up last year.
The veranda — about 16 feet square (1.5 square meters) — will get its first experiments in five more days.
Mission Control's congratulations to Wolf and Kopra, as they headed back inside, could hardly be heard because of the static. In the end, the two fell behind and had to skip some chores. They managed to free a platform for spare parts that jammed months ago, using a specially designed tool. But they did not have time to release a similar platform on the opposite side of the outpost.
With Apollo 11 on the minds of many back on Earth, NASA noted that Saturday's spacewalk was the 201st by Americans since those first steps on the moon by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin 40 years ago this Monday.
Remaining inside the linked shuttle and station were 11 astronauts, a full house. The station population swelled to a record 13 when Endeavour arrived Friday for a 1 1/2-week stay. Kopra, the station's newest resident, will remain on board for another 1 1/2 months.
Earlier Saturday, Mission Control had both good and bad news for the 13 spacefarers.
The good: Endeavour looks to be in fine shape for re-entry at the end of the month, although a review of shuttle photos and other data continues.
The bad: The astronauts were informed of Walter Cronkite's death. Mission Control relayed statements by Armstrong and NASA's new chief, ex-astronaut Charles Bolden, both of whom noted Cronkite's passion for human space exploration.