Astronauts unfurl space station's last set of solar array wings
Astronauts aboard the U.S. space shuttle Discovery unfurled the International Space Station's fourth and final set of solar array wings, bringing the 10-year-old space station to full power, which is critical for boosting science research and allowing the crew to double to six.
The space station's six solar wings already are in place. The new ones will bring the number to eight, with four on each side, Xinhua reported.
Each solar array wing has two 115-foot-long (35 meters) arrays, for a total wing span of 240 feet (73 meters), including the equipment that connects the two wings and allows them to twist as they track the sun. Altogether, the station's arrays can generate as much as 120 kilowatts of usable electricity -- enough to provide about forty-two 2,800-square-foot (260 square meters) homes with power.
Two astronauts, Steven Swanson and Richard Arnold, performed the first of three planned spacewalks Thursday and successfully installed the final set of solar array wings. Before concluding their spacewalk, Swanson and Arnold released and removed the locks and cinches holding down the wings, which allows the wings to be unfurled on Friday.
The second spacewalks will take place Saturday. Also, astronauts inside will test a new processor that converts urine into drinking water.
Discovery was launched into space Sunday night. During its stay with the station, three spacewalks will be conducted by astronauts. If all goes well, it is scheduled to undock from the station on March 25, towards a planned March 27 landing at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.