Two crewmembers of the space shuttle Atlantis began a critical space walk late Sunday to conduct maintenance work on the International Space Station (ISS), just weeks before astronauts take up regular residence there.
Mission specialists Edward Lu, a US astronaut, and the Russian cosmonaut Youri Malenchenko exited the space shuttle at 11:55 pm Sunday (0455 GMT Monday), for a six-and-a-half hour space walk.
Their tasks include fitting vital cables linking the ISS with American and Russian space modules.
"Their real task is to connect through the electrical lines and the data cables from the Service Module to the rest of the station," explained the commander piloting the Atlantis, Terrence Wilcutt.
Lu said he and his Russian partner will walk through space some 30.58 meters (100 feet) from the Atlantis almost to the edge of the ISS, setting a new distance record for space walks.
"What we're going to do is carry all the equipment and everything we need -- the cables, the tools etc -- all at once. So we're going to have to pile these things onto the backs of our space suits, and basically be pack mules all the way out there," Lu said.
Lu and Malenchenko will install four types of cable to the ISS during the space walk, as well as a magnetometer on to the exterior of the Zvezda, one of the three modules that make up the station, according to ground control officials at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.
The magnetometer will allow the ISS to correct its position against the Earth's North Pole. The two astronauts also have to adjust an instrument on the side of Zvezda fitted after its launch into orbit.
As they move across the US module Unity and the Russian Zvezda and Zaria modules, the astronauts have to negotiate a series of obstacles to fully accomplish their mission.
"The translation path (to reach Zvezda), actually, is quite long, and we will have to go around a numerous number of antennas and targets, so we need to be very careful not to touch them or misplace them," said Malenchenko.
The total seven-strong crew of astronauts aboard the Atlantis, over the next few days will transfer more than a ton and a half of equipment and supplies from the shuttle to the space station.
The first such supply walk is scheduled for late Monday.
The supplies will allow the space station to become habitable for a three-person crew that is due to arrive for a four-month stay beginning November.
The Atlantis docked with the ISS shortly before 1:00 am local time (0500 GMT) Sunday, some 300 kilometers (186 miles) over the Earth, directly above Kazakhstan.
If all goes well Atlantis will touch down at the Kennedy Space Center here on September 19 -- HOUSTON, Texas (AFP)
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