Spacewalking astronauts grease robot arm's new hand

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Spacewalking astronauts hustled through a lube job and camera swaps outside the International Space Station on Tuesday, their second trip outside in less than a week.

Astronaut Mark Vande Hei made fast work of greasing the big robot arm's new hand.

Vande Hei and station commander Randy Bresnik replaced the latching mechanism on one end of the 58-foot robot arm last Thursday. The mechanism malfunctioned in August.

Tuesday's work involved using a grease gun, which resembles a caulking gun, to keep the latching mechanism working smoothly. Vande Hei got a jump ahead in some greasing chores, but the two-part job still will spill into next week, in a third and final spacewalk.

"Why don't we wash, rinse, repeat. Do it again in a week," Bresnik said as the 6 ½-hour spacewalk came to a close.

These latches, or hands, are located on each end of the Canadian-built robot arm. They're used to grab arriving U.S. cargo ships and also allow the robot arm to move around the orbiting lab.

Launched in 2001 with the rest of the robot arm, the original latches were showing their age. NASA plans to replace the latching mechanism on the opposite end of the arm early next year.

Vande Hei and Bresnik also replaced several camera assemblies at the 250-mile-high outpost.

"What do you do for an encore?" Bresnik asked Vande Hei, after two successful spacewalks.

"I finish six months on the space station," Vande Hei replied. He arrived a month ago.

Vande Hei will sit out the next spacewalk on Oct. 18. Instead, Bresnik will be accompanied by Joe Acaba, a teacher-turned-astronaut.

Six men live at the orbiting lab: three Americans, two Russians and one Italian. As the space station approached Italy early in the spacewalk, Mission Control urged Bresnik and Vande Hei to take some photos for their crewmate, Paolo Nespoli.

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