Robinson success – removes Gap Filler

by Chris Bergin

Steve Robinson has successfully performed a repair on Discovery’s Thermal Protection System (TPS), removing two protruding Gap Fillers – venturing to the belly of the Orbiter whilst in orbit for the first time by any Astronaut.

Today’s historic EVA (Spacewalk) had already seen the External Stowage Platform hard docked with the International Space Station – although claw capture alignment was initially troublesome.

The EVA began with the ISS gaining an extra piece today at 4:40am Houston Time, 10:40am UK time. The External Stowage Platform was attached to the Destiny Module by Robinson and his fellow spacewalker, Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi.

Some issues locking down one of the ‘claws’ – for the locking bar alignment to be complete – proved to be a slightly longer task. However, loosening of the claws managed to get the locking bars back in alignment and the capture claws then helped to create the hard mate.

Robinson began an unprecedented repair job shortly after, working to remove two pieces of material protruding from the underside of Discovery.

“I’m ready to go,” he said as he moved into get a close up view, just under the nose of the shuttle.

The tricky manoeuvre involved Robinson being dangled from the Canadarm2 robotic arm on the ISS.

The arm was able to bend around Discovery’s surface, allowing Robinson to reach the underside of the shuttle. NASA TV showed amazing views of Discovery in Orbit, with her snake-like TPS shining over the planet.

The protruding material came away with a slight pull on the flaps exposed outside the TPS.

As he prepared to start the work, Robinson took extra care to secure his tools and safety tethers to prevent them from accidentally hitting and damaging the Orbiter’s surface.

“Nothing could look weird to me after all this,” said Robinson, before noting his success will see him signing autographs for years to come.

No astronaut has ever ventured under an orbiting shuttle before. And no astronaut has ever attempted to repair a ship’s thermal shielding while that ship is in flight.

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