Updated Saturday, 12:24 PM EDT Late this morning, spacewalker Scott Parazynski has finished his work. He threaded five thin cords–nicknamed "cufflinks"–across the two-foot tear in the ISS solar panel, and then backed off on the station’s robot arm while the panel was slowly stretched out.
It had been folded accordion-style, and was not fully extended when the astronauts noticed the damage to it on Tuesday.
With the so-called cufflinks in place, the panel was stretched out a few feet at a time, and Parazynski reported the fix was holding.
"Excellent work guys, excellent," said Peggy Whitson, the space station commander, after the array was locked in place. "But it’s not over yet, guys. We’ve still got to get you back inside."
So Parazynski and his fellow spacewalker, Doug Wheelock, have moved back toward the airlock. Slowly, the way they’ve long ago learned to operate in space. ================== 9:03 AM Saturday morning. We’re watching the transmissions from the Space Station as Scott Parazynski, the astronaut assigned to fix that solar panel, does his work. As he headed out, shuttle commander Pam Melroy told him she’d finally gotten a good view of the torn panel–no small matter, since it’s more than 100 feet from the nearest window, blocked by parts of the station. "What do you think?" he asked. "Well, it looks to me like the hinge wire at the large tear has been busted at about the point, oh let’s see, let me make sure I’ve got the, I’m trying to think of the name of the vertical tape that has the holes in them, it’s about halfway from the inboard edge and that tape. So some hinge wire is still left down there, kind of hanging out in the middle of that most inboard section. And then the rest of it has snarled through the (garble) wire and it also looks like… hang on a second… OK, then the upper hinge wire, the small tear, that hinge wire is also snarled. So it looks to me like both hinge wires, the guide wire and a grommet are all snarled up. In fact, I had kind of a back shadow of it on the panel and I could actually see the little fur ball outlined in shadow." "Well, that sounds like we have to do the whole enchilada for the repair, huh?" Parazynski said. "Concur," Melroy said. "It doesn’t look like an easy, just rattle-it-and-shake-loose-the-grommet kind of situation." Most of what Parazynski has been doing since is detail work–cutting some of the loose wires, adding others so that the loose parts of the panel don’t flap around when it’s moved or jostled. The issue is not getting power–the panel is generating more than 95 percent of what it would normally–but it’s a delicate assembly, essentially a long sheet of photovoltaic panels stretched over a lightweight frame. "Well, it looks like you have some surgery to do, Dr. Parazynski," said Melroy. "I think so," he said. "Looks like the patient is prepped." That’s an inside joke; Parazynski, in earlier life, was an emergency room physician. Words like "risky" and "dangerous" have been used a lot over the last few days to describe this EVA, and NASA’s been trying to steer people away from them. Sure, they say, this walk is riskier than average, but as long as the astronauts take things slowly, they should be fine.