Orbiting Junk Expected to Pass Near Space Station

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- A piece of orbiting junk was expected to pass near the international space station Friday, but NASA said it would stay a safe distance away from the station and docked shuttle.

The old rocket part was expected to pass within two miles of the shuttle-station complex late Friday morning, considered a safe distance by NASA specialists.

Managers decided there was no need to move the linked spacecraft out of the way and proceeded with a spacewalk as planned Thursday. During the spacewalk, two astronauts installed a new fully loaded tank of space station coolant.

It was the second spacewalk in three days for the Discovery and space station crews.

Despite a late start because of minor spacesuit problems, Danny Olivas and Christer Fuglesang quickly accomplished their main objective. They collected the new ammonia tank from Discovery, bolted it onto the space station, then hooked up all the electrical and fluid lines. Mission Control praised their effort.

The old tank, launched seven years ago, was removed during Tuesday night's spacewalk. Olivas and Fuglesang anchored it inside Discovery for next week's return to Earth.

The tanks are big and awkward for spacewalkers to handle: nearly 5 feet long, 7 feet wide and 4 feet high. The new one weighs 1,700 pounds.

The men, both experienced spacewalkers, appeared to have no problem dealing with the tanks and they even had time to knock off some extra chores before their 6 1/2-hour excursion ended early Friday morning. Fuglesang is Swedish.

At one point Wednesday, NASA considered moving Discovery and the space station into another orbit because of the space junk, and possibly even delaying this spacewalk. But by Thursday morning, the track of the debris became clearer and experts were able to say with certainty that the two spacecraft and 13 astronauts were safe where they were.

Olivas and Fuglesang, who is Swedish, will go back out Saturday for the third and final spacewalk of the mission.

Discovery is scheduled to undock from the space station Tuesday.

© 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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