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Shuttle leader admits sweating risky repair job admits she worried

By Marcia Dunn
AP Aerospace Writer

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — With the mission finally coming to a close, Discovery's commander acknowledged Tuesday she had been "extremely concerned" about the safety of the spacewalker who went out to fix the space station's ripped solar wing.

And the spacewalker, Scott Parazynski, said he barely managed to reach the tangled wires that had snagged the wing. If the damage had been just another foot away, "it would have been a Plan B or C or D," he told The Associated Press. "I don't know what it would have been."

As they prepared for an early Wednesday afternoon landing, the seven astronauts recalled for the AP the dramatic highlight of their 15-day space station construction mission.

Saturday's emergency repair of the torn wing at the International Space Station was an unprecedented and daring feat whipped up by flight controllers in just a few days.

Discovery's commander, Pamela Melroy, described how nervous she was when Parazynski approached the torn wing on the end of a 90-foot robotically operated boom.

"You may have heard me at one point kind of squeak out 'Be careful' as I saw the solar array coming toward him," Melroy said. She got more comfortable as she saw him do just that, and she took comfort that another spacewalker was watching the wing "like a hawk" from its base and calling out the clearances.

Parazynski said he could have used another pair of hands once he got right up to the solar wing, which was coursing with more than 100 volts of electricity. He had to stabilize the wing as it swayed back and forth, using a hockey-like stick wrapped with insulating tape.

He figured out a way to hold the stick and another tool in one hand, while using his other hand to loop homemade braces into the wing.

It was like nothing he'd ever experienced on previous spacewalks or in the pool where astronauts train. No one, in fact, had ever been so far away from the safe confines of the space station before.

Parazynski said he was energized by the wake-up music beamed up that morning courtesy of his 10-year-old son, Luke — the theme from the movie, "Star Wars."

On Tuesday afternoon, Discovery's heat shield was declared intact and the ship safe for re-entry.

Seeing craft to be difficult

When space shuttle Discovery flies over Alabama on Wednesday, itís highly unlikely that you will be able to see it, a National Aeronautics and Space Administration spokesman said.

Steven Roy, who works in media relations at NASAís Huntsville office, said the shuttle will be flying west of Florence at about 11:40 a.m. Wednesday.

The shuttle undocked from the International Space Station on Monday and is to land at Kennedy Space Center in Florida at about 12.01 p.m.

The shuttle will be at approximately 180,000 feet altitude when it flies west of Florence and Birmingham.

Even with a pair of binoculars, Roy said, itís hard for him to imagine that someone will be able to see the shuttle.

Deangelo McDaniel

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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