Former Schoolteachers Carry Out Spacewalk

By Marcia Dunn
Associated Press
Tuesday, March 24, 2009

CAPE CANAVERAL, March 23 -- Two astronauts who were teaching math and science to middle-school students five years ago went on a spacewalk together Monday, their path cleared of dangerous orbiting junk that had threatened the space station and shuttle.

Astronauts Joseph Acaba and Richard Arnold II had no luck in trying to free a jammed equipment storage shelf at the international space station, one of their main tasks.

It was the first time two former schoolteachers had taken a spacewalk together, and it was the third and final spacewalk for the shuttle Discovery's mission. The men, both in their 40s, were teaching when NASA picked them as educator-astronauts in 2004.

"Take your time, enjoy it and do good work. We're counting on you," the space station's skipper, Mike Fincke, called out.

The spacewalkers moved a crew-and-equipment cart from one end of the space station to the other and unhooked some clamps on a hose.

"You've left the space station in much better shape . . . and we heartily thank you," Mission Control radioed as the 6 1/2 -hour spacewalk ended.

On Sunday, the linked shuttle-station complex had to move out of the way of a four-inch piece of debris that had been projected to come perilously close during the spacewalk.

Space junk is becoming a growing concern for the 220-mile-high space station. Earlier this month, space station residents had to seek shelter in their emergency getaway capsule because of debris. Last week, the station almost had to dodge another piece of junk.

Discovery's astronauts said Sunday that they do not think about space junk when they are outside. They said there are enough things to worry about, such as keeping themselves and their tools tethered and getting the job done. There is always a risk tiny that pieces of debris that cannot be tracked from the ground could come zooming by.

The two crews will part Wednesday, and Discovery will aim for a touchdown Saturday at NASA's spaceport.

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