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Take 2: Spacewalking astronauts tackle solar panel work

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Astronauts ventured out on their second spacewalk in less than a week Sunday to install powerful new solar panels outside the International Space Station.

France’s Thomas Pesquet and NASA’s Shane Kimbrough picked up where they left off Wednesday when spacesuit and other problems prevented them from unrolling the first in a series of high-tech solar panels.

“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 ended 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 back 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 as the minutes ticked by.

The final step — still ahead — was the unfurling of the panel to its total 63 feet (19 meters) in length.

Unlike the station’s old ones that unfolded like an accordion, these new solar wings are designed to roll out like a red carpet. They will give the aging station a much-needed electrical boost as demand for experiments and space tourists grows.

NASA initially allotted two spacewalks for the job — one for each solar panel being installed. But managers added the third spacewalk, given all the earlier problems. Pesquet and Kimbrough will go back out Friday to complete the second panel delivered by Space X earlier this month.

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