Nasa makes history with spacewalk, station finale

Nasa makes history with spacewalk, station finale

Astronauts complete assembly of the $100 billion Space Station

In this image provided by Nasa, a bright sun — a portion of the International Space Station and Earth’s horizon — are featured in this image photographed by a spacewalker using a fish-eye lens during the fourth spacewalk on Friday. AP

Astronauts Mike Fincke and Greg Chamitoff floated outside the orbiting outpost’s Quest airlock for the fourth and final spacewalk planned during shuttle Endeavour’s 16-day mission, the next to last in the US space shuttle programme.

After Fincke and Chamitoff transferred the shuttle’s 50-foot (15-metre) inspection boom to the station, doubling the reach of the station’s robotic crane, shuttle commander Mark Kelly called Mission Control in Houston to mark the milestone — after 12 years of efforts.

“Space station assembly is complete,” Kelly said. It was the last spacewalk that shuttle-bound astronauts will undertake before Nasa turns over Endeavour and sister ships Discovery and Atlantis to museums. Space station crew will continue to make spacewalks for maintenance and repair tasks.

Later, Chamitoff used a special camera with a wide-angle “fish eye” lense to photograph the space station and paused to reflect on the event.

“We’re floating here on the shoulders of giants,” said Chamitoff. “This space station is the pinnacle of human achievement and international cooperation.”

The spacewalk was the 159th in support of assembly and maintenance of the station, which began with the robotic attachment of the US Unity node with the Russian Zarya base block in 1998. Since then, the project of 16 nations has grown to more than 1 million pounds (455,000 kg) of hardware orbiting 220 miles (355 km) above Earth.

In over 1,000 hours worth of ventures in the dark vacuum of space, dressed in bulky spacesuits and wielding all manner of tools and gadgets, astronauts have steadily bolted the station together.

Its interior has grown to the size of a Boeing 747 jet and the wingspan of its power-generating solar wings would nearly cover the surface of a US football field.

Nasa will set yet another orbital milestone later on Friday. Fincke, a veteran of two long-duration stays on the station, will eclipse fellow Nasa astronaut Peggy Whitson’s record of 377 days in space, more than any other US spacefarer.