Robinson confident ahead of historic EVA

by Chris Bergin

Astronaut Steve Robinson noted his confidence in being able to pull out two protruding Gap Fillers from Discovery’s belly – claiming the task on tomorrow’s EVA 3 is “simple.” However, speaking live from the International Space Station (ISS), he admitted there was always some risk associated with space travel.

It is the first time an astronaut has carried out such a task, as he is positioned on the end of the Space Station’s robotic arm and swung out – under the guidance of Andy Thomas and two other astronauts – underneath Discovery.

“I’ll be watching the top of my helmet to avoid contact with the TPS,” said Robinson, noting some of the concerns in ensuring he doesn’t come into contact with the Orbiter’s Thermal Protection System (TPS).

Asked by members of the media during the press conference with the crew of Discovery and the ISS, Robinson also noted he’s pretty handy with tools – something he’ll need to be if the gap fillers fail to come loose by hand. “(Laugh) Well I’ve got some old Airplanes at home so I’m pretty good with tool,” he added. “It’ll be a gentle pull (of the gap filler) with my hand. If that doesn’t work, I’ll use forceps. If that doesn’t work I’ll use the hacksaw, but there will be no yanking.”

Concerns over the protruding material effects on the Orbiter during the Boundary Level Transition section of re-entry has led to uncertainty on how the gap fillers will effect Discovery – leading to Wednesday’s spacewalk.

“There has been so many people that have worked together to get the Shuttle flying again. All those people that have made sacrifices and worked late at night and we have nothing but thanks for them,” noted Commander Eileen Collins, commenting on the continued hard work by engineers on the ground.

“I’m highly confident (about re-entry) once we pull out the (gap fillers) we’ll have a very clean re-entry.”

“It’s a pretty simple EVA is everything goes right,” added Andy Thomas, who is planning the movements of Robinson on the EVA. “I think the fix is very straightforward. When we first heard about it some of us had some misgivings. We know (thanks to the ground) we know about the worst case scenario – although I don’t think there was any threat to us. It should be a simple fix.”

Collins expanded on what will occur on Wednesday – during an EVA that will see the repair to Discovery’s TPS as the second element of the day’s activities outside the Orbiter’s Airlock.

“Two crew members will be operating the Space Station Arm and two more controlling the Shuttle arm,” the Commander explained. “Highlight of the EVA will be when Steve goes on his repair. Andy will be organising the EVA.”

“I think we all have confidence that the Shuttle will return safely once these gap fillers have been removed. We believe that the engineers in Houston and around the world have the right information and we trust them. We expect to land safely with no worries.”

Finishing off with comments on the need to keep the Shuttles flying, as well as working on building a replacement (The CEV) for the fleet, Collins backed up the need for the ISS as part of NASA’s Vision for Space Exploration.

“Most people know America is wanting to build a new spaceship that will replace the Shuttle,” Collins added. “It’s critical to have Americans in space if we want to go to the Moon and Mars and the ISS is an excellent base to carry out that level of research.”

To follow live updates and images from Flight Day 8, click here:

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