Page last updated at 02:00 GMT, Saturday, 16 June 2007 03:00 UK

Repairs ease space mission woes

Astronaut (Nasa)
Friday's spacewalk was the current mission's third

Problems dogging a mission to the International Space Station have been eased following a spacewalk and a computer reboot.

A third spacewalk by astronauts on the shuttle Atlantis has fixed a tear in its thermal blanket that occurred during lift-off.

And Russian cosmonauts have now successfully rebooted vital ISS computer systems that had crashed.

The systems are critical for controlling the station's positioning.

While the system was down, the ISS was relying on its four gyroscopes to maintain its orientation.

Lynette Madison, a US space agency (Nasa) spokeswoman in Houston, said the computers were "up and operational and this is good news for all".

Russian Mission Control chief Vladimir Solovyov said engineers had to disconnect the Russian oxygen-generating system, called Elektron, during repairs as it was dependent on the faulty computers. The lives of the crew were not in danger.

Russian space officials had said they were considering sending their cargo vessel Progress to the ISS earlier than scheduled to deliver spare parts for the computers if the problems persisted.

Mission extension

Meanwhile Atlantis crew members Jim Reilly and Danny Olivas embarked on the mission's third spacewalk.

The six-hour walk repaired damage to the shuttle's heat shield.

The astronauts used a medical stapler to seal a gap about the size of a human hand between sections of thermal insulation.

The blanket section had peeled back as the shuttle blasted off from Cape Canaveral on 8 June.

The blanket protects the shuttle from the intense heat of re-entering the atmosphere.

Damage to the shuttle Columbia in 2003 during its launch led to the vehicle's disintegration as it returned to Earth, killing all seven crew.

The crew of Atlantis were originally due to spend 11 days at the ISS, but the mission has since been extended to 13 to carry out the thermal shield repairs.

This was supposed to be the second shuttle mission of 2007, but a freak storm over the Florida launch site in late February caused hail damage to the shuttle and delayed the mid-March flight.

Despite the delays, managers are confident they will be able to complete the ISS before the shuttles' 2010 retirement date.

Nasa plans to fly 15 more missions to the station to deliver large components, spare parts and other supplies. In addition, one final servicing call to the Hubble Space Telescope is planned for September 2008.

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