CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP)—A pair of visiting shuttle astronauts ventured out on a spacewalk at the International Space Station on Feb. 28, tackling a hodgepodge of maintenance jobs and an experiment to capture the invisible vacuum of space.
Stephen Bowen and then Alvin Drew floated out the hatch early, and went straight to work with an extension power cable.
Bowen, the lead spacewalker, was a last-minute addition to Discovery’s last crew. He is filling in for an astronaut who hurt himself in a bicycle crash last month.
Drew, meanwhile, became the world’s 200th spacewalker when he emerged from the 220-mile-high complex. He’s making his first spacewalk.
“Alvin will now be able to say that he works in a vacuum,” Mission Control said.
Benjamin Alvin “Al” Drew Jr. can remember wanting to be a pilot as young as 4.
He was 5½ when he asked his father whether it was a better career move to become a pilot or an astronaut. “I didn’t want to give up either of them,” he recalled. The elder Drew, a drug counselor, advised his son to become a pilot since most astronauts, at least back then, were pilots.
The plan worked. The Washington, D.C.,-raised Drew went from flying helicopters in the Army to flying on the space shuttle.
“I was smitten with that whole idea of just being at treetop level at night in a formation of helicopters with guns,” Drew, 48, said. “That was clearly not the straight-line path to being an astronaut. But it seemed like a very cool idea at the time.”
Drew—a retired Air Force colonel—flew 60 combat missions over Panama in 1989, and the Persian Gulf and Iraq in the early 1990s. He became an astronaut in 2000.
On this shuttle mission, his second, he will add another skill to his repertoire when he performs a pair of spacewalks.
“What a great program, and I got to be a part of it,” he said.
This is Discovery’s final voyage, and only two other shuttle trips remain. The fleet will be retired by summer’s end.
This was the first of two spacewalks planned for Discovery’s farewell flight.
In a lighthearted experiment saved for the end of the spacewalk, the astronauts planned to open a small hand-held bottle, ridding it of air and filling it with the vacuum of space.
NASA calls the Japanese education experiment “message in a bottle.”
There’s no message inside, but the bottle is signed by astronauts who have flown in space. It will be returned to Earth aboard Discovery next week and put on display in Japan. It’s an effort by the Japanese Space Agency to increase public interest.
Bowen and Drew will go back out Wednesday for one last spacewalk.
Once back home, Discovery will be retired and sent to the Smithsonian Institution. It’s NASA’s longest flying shuttle, circling the planet for nearly a year during the course of 39 missions over 26 years.
The two other shuttles, Atlantis and Endeavour, also will make their final flights in coming months as the program comes to a close.