NASA astronauts discuss space shuttle journey at Plum Brook

PERKINS TWP. When he was 200 feet away from the nearest airlock, making his unscheduled spacewalk to
Tom Jackson
May 24, 2010

PERKINS TWP.

When he was 200 feet away from the nearest airlock, making his unscheduled spacewalk to repair a solar power system, astronaut Dr. Scott Parazynski had a few things he was supposed to remember.

The damaged solar array, which collects sunlight to power the International Space Station, was still generating power as Parazynski worked on it, the astronaut told an audience of about 100 Monday afternoon at NASA Plum Brook Station.

The tools Parazynski used for his repair job had to be insulated, and he was given plenty of advice on what not to touch as he did his work.

"The list of don't touches covered a full page," Parazynski said during an interview after his appearance.

Parazynski, a physician, and four other astronauts from the recently completed STS 120 Space Shuttle mission spoke at Plum Brook to thank the ground crew for the work that makes their exciting space missions possible.

The solar array the astronauts helped deploy -- and which Parazynski helped fix -- was tested in the big vacuum chamber at Plum Brook's Space Power Facility, explained retired Brig. Gen. David Stringer, director of the Plum Brook Management Office.

As a result of the testing at Plum Brook, 36 different engineering changes were made in the solar power equipment, Stringer said.

"Those were 36 additional ways it could have failed we caught down below," Stringer said.

Parazynski and four other shuttle crew members -- mission commander Pamela Ann Melroy and astronauts George Zamka, Douglas Wheelock and Stephanie Wilson -- took turns narrating a movie depicting their mission, which returned safety to Florida on Nov. 7.

Parazynski is 6 feet, 3 inches tall. His NASA biography explains he had to be removed from a mission to Russia's Mir space station after officials discovered he didn't fit properly inside a Soyuz spacecraft, although his height has not kept him from going on five shuttle missions.

He said although he was warned about the hazards of his spacewalk -- he was told to expect to see electrical sparks -- his main worry was that he wouldn't be able to carry out the necessary repairs. The mission was successful, however, and the solar equipment is producing power for the International Space Station, the crew told the audience Monday.

The visit from the five astronauts was the first time a shuttle crew has come to Plum Brook, Stringer said.

Two members of the crew could not come to Plum Brook Monday. Paolo Nespoli, an Italian astronaut, was back in Italy, while Daniel Tani was left behind on the space station and will be retrieved by a later shuttle mission.

During its mission, the shuttle crew added components to the space station and carried out science experiments.

After they spoke, the crew answered questions and autographed photographs for Plum Brook employees.

Melroy, a retired Air Force colonel and a test pilot, explained the shuttle runs on autopilot during part of its return to Earth, but she has to take the controls for the final part of the return.

The descent is rather steep, and "once we get below 50,000 feet, the wind tends to change really dramatically," she said.