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Astronaut, cosmonaut on spacewalk mission
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- An American astronaut and a Russian cosmonaut ventured out on a spacewalk Monday to hook up cables and test a crane on the international space station.
It was the first spacewalk for station commander Frank Culbertson -- and almost certainly his last. His four-month mission is nearing an end, and if he ever returns to space, it will be in his old shuttle piloting job.
Space station Alpha was soaring 250 miles above the Pacific when Culbertson emerged in a bulky white spacesuit, nearly an hour late because of the need to redo a spacecraft leak check.
Culbertson had trouble getting around the exit ladder on the outside of the Russian docking compartment, which doubles as an air lock.
"Like I thought, the ladder is a problem here," Culbertson told his spacewalking partner, Vladimir Dezhurov.
Dezhurov, a veteran spacewalker who went out twice last month with the other cosmonaut on board, urged Culbertson to move slowly and carefully. The astronaut complied; he even paused for a bit of sightseeing.
"Whoa, look beneath us now. Can you see those lights?" Culbertson said as the station headed over the Arabian Sea. "Incredible."
The spacewalkers routed seven antenna cables for the Russian docking system, but only after Culbertson took a brief rest from the hand-intensive work. "Whooo, take a breath," he said, the strain evident in his voice. One connector was upside-down, but flight controllers said that was fine.
The men also inspected and photographed a Russian solar wing that never fully deployed. All the screws and bolts appeared to be in place on the stuck panel.
Because the cosmonauts did not have time to test the crane they installed on their first spacewalk, the job fell to Culbertson and Dezhurov.
Using a hand crank, Dezhurov extended the telescoping crane out to almost its full length of 40 feet. Culbertson, floating nearby, made sure the end of the crane didn't get too close to the space station.
"It's kind of hard," Dezhurov said. "I have cramps in my hand." By the time the crane was retracted and secured, he had turned the crank more than 80 times.
Russian Mission Control outside Moscow was so satisfied with the performance of the crane that engineers decided Culbertson would not have to get on the end and serve as a payload.
"Now it's time to go home," Mission Control informed the spacewalkers. Their excursion lasted five hours.
Culbertson, 52, a retired Navy captain and former space station manager, has been living on the orbiting outpost since August with Dezhurov and Mikhail Tyurin. They will trade places early next month with a fresh three-man crew delivered by space shuttle Endeavour.
Endeavour's liftoff is scheduled for Nov. 29.