NASA astronauts headed out for Discovery mission's first spacewalk

Colbert treadmill moves into space station as massive ammonia tank removed

After attaching a module carrying nearly eight tons of supplies to the International Space Station yesterday, astronauts today are heading out for the first of three mission spacewalks.

The seven-member crew of the space shuttle Discovery blasted off Saturday for a 13-day mission to bring replacement parts and supplies to the International Space Station. The group got off to a good start yesterday when the space station's robotic arm spent three hours moving the Leonardo Multi-Purpose Logistics Module from Discovery's payload bay to connect to the outside of the space station.

The pressurized module is designed to ferry cargo from Earth to the space station, according to Bill Jeffs, a spokesman for NASA. The cargo includes a new filled ammonia tank, two new experiment racks, a treadmill, a new air purification system and a laboratory freezer that runs at minus-80-degrees.

"This is a very important mission," said Jeffs. "We're delivering needed equipment and supplies, including the new experiment racks that will enhance the science that can be done onboard the space station."

Flight Engineer Nicole Stott and Mission Specialist Danny Olivas are set to begin their 6.5-hour spacewalk at 5:49 p.m. EDT today. Today's walk will focus on removing a massive empty ammonia tank from a truss on the left-hand side of the space station. A replacement tank is scheduled to be installed in the second spacewalk, scheduled for Thursday. The ammonia is used to cool the interior of the station.

The robotic arm onboard the International Space Station will play a major role in today's spacewalk, helping the astronauts transfer the ammonia tank and even giving one astronaut a ride on the end of its outstretched arm, according to Jeffs.

The spacewalking astronauts also are scheduled to move the Colbert treadmill from the cargo module to the space station. This past April, NASA named the treadmill after comedian Stephen Colbert, who had waged a massive online effort to have the new wing of the space station named after him.

NASA has launched an online poll to choose a name for the new wing, which will house life support equipment, controls for the space station's robotic arm and the new treadmill. Colbert rallied his fans, known as Colbert Nation, to go to NASA's Web site to cast write-in votes for "Colbert" as the new name. And Colbert Nation not only voted, they voted in droves.

The digital ballot-box-stuffing worked. The name "Colbert" got more than 230,000 votes -- 40,000 more than "Serenity," the top-ranked NASA-suggested name.

Naming the wing Colbert didn't sit right with the folks at NASA so they named the wing Tranquility and named the treadmill after the enterprising comedian.

Jeffs said the treadmill will need a few hours of assembly and then astronauts onboard the space station can begin using it to stay in shape will spending months aloft.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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