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Atlantis crew loses nuts on space walk

Sounds worse than it is

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Proof that even the most exalted rank of astronaut does not make you immune to the horrors of flat-pack furniture.

OK, the setting is rather more exotic than the average living room, and the kit isn't from IKEA, but somehow it heartens us to hear that the space-walking astronauts of the Atlantis mission have lost a bolt, a spring and a washer during their first time outside the shuttle.

The crew has started installing the extension of the station's backbone that will carry the much-needed solar arrays. Space-walkers Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper and Joe Tanner were wiring up the extension when the fixings floated free.

NASA says it is now trying to work out whether this is a problem. We certainly hope they packed spares.

The crew has a second space-walk planned for Wednesday, and earlier in the space-walk NASA confirmed that it would go ahead as scheduled. Engineers on the ground had judged further inspections of the Shuttle's heat shields to be unnecessary, meaning no further delays for the mission.

A third space-walk is planned for Thursday, by which time the extension should be installed and powered up. The solar arrays will be unfurled during the third outing.

NASA is certainly not resting on its laurels during this mission: time is of the essence. The Russians are launching their next Soyuz flight to the ISS on September 14th, and NASA's astronauts must be clear of the station by then.

Our thanks to Vulture eyed reader Matthew Barratt for spotting the detail that made an otherwise routine space-walk story (if there could be such a thing) much more fun. ®

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