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Atlantis' sick astronaut feeling better

Monday, February 11, 2008

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- Shuttle Atlantis' sick German astronaut looked and sounded well Sunday as he helped a crewmate prepare for a spacewalk that should have been his.

In an unusual move, NASA pulled Hans Schlegel off the spacewalk to help install the European lab, Columbus, at the international space station, and delayed the work until today, one day later than planned.

Schlegel, 56, a physicist and former paratrooper who has seven children, was fine for Thursday's liftoff and became ill in orbit, European Space Agency officials said, adding that the condition was neither life-threatening nor contagious.

Even though he did not look sick, spacewalks are strenuous and an astronaut needs to be in top form, they said.

The hope is that Schlegel will be well enough to take part in Wednesday's spacewalk, the second of three planned for Atlantis' space station visit. He was sidelined Saturday, shortly after the shuttle reached the station.

"We're all keeping our fingers crossed for him to get better soon," radioed Europe's Mission Control near Munich, Germany. Schlegel has only flown once before in space, in 1993.

NASA refused to give out any additional details, citing medical privacy. But it's common knowledge that a majority of astronauts suffer from space motion sickness during their first few days in orbit.

Flight director Mike Sarafin said unless he hears otherwise from flight surgeons, Wednesday's spacewalk will take place as originally planned with Schlegel. As for Monday's outing, none of the work has been altered because of the switch in crew. "The only difference is who's going out the hatch," Sarafin said.

Schlegel huddled Sunday with his replacement, American Stanley Love, and the other spacewalker, American Rex Walheim, as the men got their equipment ready for Monday's 61/2-hour outing. Love had trained as a backup for the spacewalk and already was assigned to the mission's third outing.

NASA scrambled to rearrange the flight plan for the rest of the flight, now 12 days long. Mission managers added an extra day because of the spacewalk delay.


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