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Astronauts Begin Cable Hookup For International Space Station

By Kathy Sawyer
The Washington Post
HOUSTON

Astronauts aboard the shuttle Endeavour stepped outside their spaceship late Tuesday to begin converting the lifeless core of the new international space station into a functioning structure that can keep itself warm and communicate with its creators.

Astronauts Jerry Ross and Jim Newman climbed out of an airlock in the shuttle's cargo bay to begin the planned six-hour spacewalk. Their primary goal was to hook up 40 cables running between the components of the seven-story structure constructed late Sunday by the mating of the orbiting Russian-built Zarya and the U.S.-built Unity module carried aboard the shuttle.

"The nervous system, if not the heart, of the space station will be coming alive," NASA flight director Robert Castle said as the stage was set for the first assembly spacewalk, some 15 years after President Reagan approved the project.

Ross and Newman successfully argued for an early start on the excursion to make sure they could get all their work done. The cables were to carry electrical power from Zarya, as well as transmit data and communications between the two modules. The power is generated by Zarya's two 35-foot solar wings, which collect energy from the sun.

Before starting work, both astronauts tethered themselves to their spacecraft with extra-strength fabric lines, in addition to wearing emergency jet backpacks. With the shuttle encumbered by the seven-story space station on its back and therefore ill-equipped for a rescue sortie, flight managers called for these extra precautions to make sure neither spacewalker could break free and drift off into the void.

Providing a play-by-play description of their work to each other and their support teams over their suit microphones, the pair began at the bottom of the Unity/Zarya "stack" and worked their way outward from the cargo bay. The 35-ton edifice - the embryo of the international research complex - is a true skyscraper, towering 76 feet high.

The operation provided dazzling TV images of the tiny humans clambering around like knights in white armor, scaling the glowing white tower that leaned starkly into the blackness space above a marbled blue curve of Earth horizon.