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Discovery Spacewalkers Test Repair Tools


The crew of the space shuttle Discovery is completing the first of three planned space walks. Steve Robinson and Soichi Noguchi were outside the discovery for more than six hours. The astronauts tested tools designed to repair damaged areas on the shuttle's heat-shield tiles and, of course, they took photographs. Wouldn't you, if you were all the way out there? NASA says today's outing was the 26th space walk staged from a space shuttle. Earlier today, we spoke to Pat Duggins, news director at member station WMFE in Orlando, who's covered the space program a good long while, and he told us about some of those repairs.

Mr. PAT DUGGINS (News Director, WMFE): It looks really not all that unfamiliar to anybody who's done repairs around the house, except the two repairmen are dressed in heavy space suits and they each look like a Michelin man.

SIMON: And presumably, you don't have to--you know, they don't have to give them a window of opportunity. Show up between 9 and noon or something, right?

Mr. DUGGINS: There we go. There we go. Exactly. No, actually, Scott, they're working with two--actually, this whole repair process for NASA began--and I'm not kidding--at a Home Depot do-it-yourself repair shop where they basically looked at how calking is done, and then they simply adapted those tools to what they're using in orbit. And they're very, very familiar. I mean, astronaut Steve Robinson used a calk gun that looks like the calk gun that you or I might use to fix something here at the house, except that it's covered with protective cloth...

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. DUGGINS: ...for the heat and the cold of space. And then they have large putty knives to work the repair compound into broken test tiles. So its all just, you know, very, very basic work.

SIMON: I should say, Pat, it looks like a calking gun you would use. I would come nowhere near it. Stay with us. We want to go to Scott Parazynski, an astronaut who's logged over 20 hours of space walking.

Dr. Parazynski, isn't it?

Dr. SCOTT PARAZYNSKI (Astronaut): Yes, it is. You said it correctly.

SIMON: Thanks for being with us.

Dr. PARAZYNSKI: Tough name.

SIMON: And wouldn't there be a real-life opportunity to repair the stuff that's been damaged aboard the shuttle?

Dr. PARAZYNSKI: I'm sorry. Say again.

SIMON: Isn't there a real-life chance to actually repair some of the damage that's the shuttle sustained during lift-off?

Dr. PARAZYNSKI: I would think that would be a very remote possibility at this point. We've done a great deal of imagery and scanning using lasers thus far, and the preliminary reports that I've been getting are that the orbiter Discovery's in great shape and doesn't look like any repairs will be necessary.

SIMON: Oh. You've spent so many hours space walking, Dr. "Astronaut" Parazynski. What's it like to just float out there and look down at the Earth?

Dr. PARAZYNSKI: It really is the ultimate astronaut experience. And I tell people I have the greatest job in the universe. But I guess to draw more conventional parallels, you know, looking out of a commercial airline window, your little porthole is beautiful, you know, if you're flying over the Rockies or over the Pacific coastline. But if you imagine then skydiving in comparison and the view that you have, you know, 360 degrees around you--everything around you is, you know, enveloped in the enormity of space. And so that's really what it's like. The view inside the shuttle is incredible, but to actually get outside and just have a thin pane of Plexiglas between you and the universe is incredibly powerful.

SIMON: But I wonder, when you're using a calking gun or tightening a nut or a bolt out there, do you ever just like ignore the view? Does it ever become old hat?

Dr. PARAZYNSKI: Yes, you do. It never becomes old hat.

SIMON: Yeah.

Dr. PARAZYNSKI: Let me first say that. But you are very focused on your job. You know that the work that you're doing is critically important and to mess up is not permitted. So there are times when you're focused in working that it's almost as if you're in the training pool again, which we spend hundreds of hours in prior to our space walks. But every once in a while, you do glance up and, you know, `Look, there's the Northern Lights or there's the Himalayas,' and it brings it all back home to you.

SIMON: OK. Thank you, Scott Parazynski, an astronaut. Thanks for being on with us this morning. And Pat Duggins in Orlando, thank you for coming through for us, too.

Mr. DUGGINS: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Pat Duggins