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Monday, December 18, 2006

Astronauts To Venture Into Space To Work On Space Station

For the fourth time in seven days, U.S. astronauts will venture into space to work on the International Space Station. The main objective of today’s excursion is to complete the retraction of the port solar array wing on the P6 truss.

During the spacewalk, Mission Specialists Robert Curbeam and Christer Fuglesang will attempt to free up the array for retraction with several techniques -- pulling guide wires, flipping grommets, and pushing panel hinges. If necessary, the spacewalkers will shake the panel. Another objective of the fourth spacewalk is to collect information that could prove useful when the opposite side of the array is retracted during the STS-117 mission in March. The spacewalk is slated to begin at 2:12 p.m. EST.

A little over 6½ hours has been scheduled if needed. Pilot Bill Oefelein will coordinate today's spacewalk activities. Mission Specialist Joan Higginbotham and space station Flight Engineer Suni Williams will operate the station’s robot arm, Canadarm2. Curbeam will become the first astronaut to conduct four spacewalks during one shuttle mission. This will be Fuglesang’s third spacewalk during STS-116. The spacewalk was added on Saturday and the STS-116 and Expedition 14 crews prepared for the excursion Sunday.

Overnight, Curbeam and Fuglesang slept in the Quest airlock, where the pressure was lowered to the pressure normally found on Earth 10,000 feet above sea level. This procedure protects against decompression sickness as spacewalkers go to the even lower pressure in the spacesuits for the spacewalk. After Curbeam and Fuglesang wrap up this evening, attention will turn to Discovery’s departure. Discovery is scheduled to undock at 5:09 p.m. Tuesday, ending STS-116’s eight-day stay at the station.

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