Flaws mar space station work

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A giant solar wing ripped as it was being unfurled by astronauts aboard the international space station on Tuesday, creating another problem for NASA at the orbiting outpost.

The next shuttle flight could be delayed if this latest problem isn’t resolved quickly, said NASA’s space station program manager, Mike Suffredini. Atlantis is supposed to lift off in early December with a European laboratory.

The torn solar wing can still provide power. NASA’s bigger concern is the structural problem posed by a partially deployed panel.

The solar panels on the 171/2-ton girder that was installed at its new location Tuesday were folded up like an accordion for the move, and the first one slowly was unfurled as the seven-hour spacewalk wrapped up, gleaming golden in the sun.

Astronauts abruptly stopped the unfurling of the second panel, however, as soon as they saw the rip on the edge of the panel. The panel was almost completely unfurled when the rip was spotted. The astronauts beamed down photos of the torn and crumpled section so NASA can analyze them and determine the extent of the damage.

The glitch is the second this week for the space mission. A spacewalking astronaut on Sunday found black dust resembling metal shavings inside a motorized joint that turns the solar panels. NASA has limited the joint’s motion to prevent the debris from causing permanent damage, but that also limits the system’s ability to generate power for the station.

The space agency added a day to Discovery’s mission so spacewalking astronauts could conduct a detailed inspection of the troublesome joint. That work is scheduled for Thursday, although that work might be upstaged by the solar wing trouble.

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