Space shuttle shuttle alert keeps US astronauts back for space station re-entry

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Astronauts and space station repair team to undertake second spacewalk in two weeks, but no radiation worry for perky Kibo lab

Astronauts returning to Earth with the International Space Station (ISS) will step outside again in the morning after a second spacewalk was postponed by a US space agency bulletin.

They will have to get ready to reboard the orbiting laboratory in less than two weeks.

NASA said on Thursday that it has issued an orbital debris alert in response to a Space Shuttle programme transition team meeting.

The alert, which affects missions scheduled to use one or more shuttle fuel cells on Wednesday, March 8, could include the excursion by three astronauts who arrived in Houston on Thursday night and are due to leave the orbiting lab on Sunday, 1 March.

US space agency and other space agencies had been due to have a spacewalk planned for Tuesday night.

Spacewalking astronauts Mike Hopkins and Rick Mastracchio earlier ventured outside the orbiting laboratory on 19 February, just two weeks after they originally scheduled the excursion. Hopkins and Mastracchio were scheduled to go down this time, but NASA’s hazardous space debris team decided to hold off until further notice due to the new alert.

The spacewalkers extended the orbiting lab’s Kibo laboratory, named after the Japanese word for hope, by almost a metre as part of the mission.

They plan to use their robot arm, in case they can’t go outside the lab on Tuesday.

The moves by Hopkins and Mastracchio were so smooth they had joked the only two glitches could be the amount of time they spend outside of the lab during their most recent outing.

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