Spacewalking astronauts equipped the International Space Station with the first in a series of powerful new solar panels Sunday, overcoming suit problems and other obstacles with muscle and persistence. It took two spacewalks for French astronaut Thomas Pesquet and NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough to install and unfurl the panel to its full 63 feet in length. The solar wing unrolled like a red carpet once the final set of bolts was released, relying solely on pent-up energy. The slow but steady extension took 10 minutes, the AP reports, with station cameras providing live TV views. "It is beautiful," Pesquet called out. "Well done, both of you," Mission Control replied once the operation was complete. "That was great to see." The astronauts started Sunday's spacewalk picking up where they left off Wednesday, when a string of problems prevented them from unrolling the high-tech solar panel.
"Remember: You are butterflies with biceps today," astronaut Megan McArthur radioed from inside. After pushing and tugging, the spacewalkers managed to unfold and align the solar panel so both halves were now end to end, resembling a roll of paper towels. Their shout of “Woo-hoo!" was met with applause in Mission Control. The two had to wait until they were on the night side of Earth—and the station's old solar panels were no longer soaking up sunlight and generating power—before making the final power connections. Otherwise, they could be shocked. While awaiting darkness, the camera-and-light assembly on Kimbrough's helmet came loose, even though he'd switched to a different suit to avoid the trouble he encountered last time. Pesquet did his best to secure it with wire ties. His effort paid off, and the final step—the actual unfurling—went off without a hitch. This new solar wing, with five more to come, will give the aging station a needed electrical boost, as demand for experiments and space tourism grows.
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