Spacewalk Is Practical, Reflective

Two space station astronauts went out on a spacewalk Wednesday in a shakedown of an American-made exit used only once before at the orbiting outpost.

Carl Walz and Daniel Bursch emerged early from NASA's Quest air lock at the international space station, nearly 250 miles above the Pacific.

"How's the view?" Mission Control asked.

"The view is spectacular," Walz replied.

Bursch later chimed in: "Yee-haw!"

The spacewalk, which also included some maintenance chores, was the third for this space station crew but the first to be staged from the U.S. air lock, installed last July. The portal was used once by visiting space shuttle astronauts during their delivery mission; they encountered some minor problems during its debut.

NASA wanted Walz and Bursch to exit from this air lock, as opposed to one on the Russian side of the space station, to ensure its performance for critical assembly spacewalks by shuttle astronauts in April.

Mission Control's Dina Barclay, a spacewalking officer, called Wednesday's outing "a groundbreaking ceremony for many future U.S. spacewalks."

"We want to make sure we put Quest through the paces before those four spacewalks from Quest" in April, Barclay said.

NASA also wanted to see how easy it would be for space station residents to use the Quest air lock without a shuttle present. The air lock and all the necessary exit procedures appeared to work well Wednesday.

The morning excursion had Walz and Bursch hooking up electrical cables, checking dents in radiators from space debris, and gathering tools for the shuttle astronauts who will install large construction framework in April.

By coincidence, the spacewalk took place on the 40th anniversary of John Glenn's orbiting of Earth in his Mercury capsule, Friendship 7. Glenn planned to call the astronauts later in the day as part of commemoration events.

Even before Glenn's call, the spacewalkers made note of his achievement on Feb. 20, 1962. "Thanks again, Mr. Glenn, for being one of the pioneers for our space program," Bursch said. Added Walz: "We're proud to be following in those footsteps."

The spacewalkers also took a moment to say hello to their wives, watching everything from below.

"Hi, honey. Miss you," Bursch called out.

Walz, Bursch and their Russian commander, Yuri Onufrienko, moved into the space station in December. They're due back on Earth in May.

By Marcia Dunn ©MMII The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed