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September 3, 2009

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Space walkers remove ammonia tank

TWO spacewalkers successfully tackled a hefty tank removal job at the international space station on Tuesday as their crewmates unloaded a treadmill named after comedian Stephen Colbert for all "those famously fat astronauts."
The only concern Nicole Stott and Danny Olivas had about mass - everything is weightless in space - involved the huge ammonia tank they needed to disconnect. They held the freed 600-kilogram tank steady until a robot arm grabbed it.
A new fully loaded tank will be installed on the second spacewalk of the mission tonight. The old one will be returned to Earth aboard Discovery.
The tanks are massive by spacewalking standards: 1.5 meters long, 2.1m wide and 1.2m high. The old one has been up there since 2002.
A moment of concern arose one-and-a-half hours into Tuesday evening's spacewalk when Olivas noticed fraying on the index finger of his right glove, following the tank removal. Mission Control deemed the stitching defect minor and he was allowed to continue.
Minutes later, Stott reported a high reading of carbon dioxide. Mission Control said it appeared to be "a weird sensor" and her suit was fine.
Then there was a half-hour communication outage between Mission Control and the shuttle-station complex. A thunderstorm at a satellite relay station in Guam was to blame.
Everything went smoothly after that, and the six-and-a-half-hour spacewalk ended early yesterday with all objectives accomplished.
Shortly before the spacewalk got under way, the space station officially got its new US$5 million treadmill that is named for Colbert.
Colbert said through his New York publicist that "my treadmill will ... help trim down those famously fat astronauts. Lay off the Tang, Chubby!"
Colbert originally wanted a space station room named after himself and even won an online vote earlier this year for naming rights. NASA instead went with Tranquility for the yet-to-be-launched chamber, in honor of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin's landing on the moon's Sea of Tranquility.


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