CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Astronauts successfully unfurled the newly installed solar wings at the International Space Station on Friday, a nerve-racking procedure that went exceedingly well and brought the orbiting outpost to full power.
To NASA’s relief, both wings went out smoothly, one at a time. None of the panels stuck together as they had on previous panels.
The wings stretched more than 240 feet, a glistening golden hue in the sunlight and a dazzling sight for the astronauts and everyone else involved.
“It’s just really amazing,” said Mike Fincke, the space station’s skipper. He said there was “a shout of triumph” aboard the linked station-shuttle complex once the two wings were fully extended.
The work was a highlight of shuttle Discovery’s mission. Completed 220 miles above Earth, the new panels are the final pair of electricity-generating wings and should boost the amount of science research at the orbiting outpost.
“Great work, guys,” Mission Control told the astronauts. “We’ve got a whole bunch of happy people down here.”
After 10 years of assembly, the space station now has eight full wings. Altogether, the wings will be capable of generating enough electrical power for about 42 large houses, according to NASA.
On Thursday, a pair of spacewalking astronauts hooked up the $300 million framework that holds the wings.
This last major American-made addition increased the mass of the space station to 670,000 pounds; it is now 81 percent complete. Construction is scheduled to wrap up next year with the retirement of NASA’s shuttles.
The second of three planned spacewalks will take place Saturday.
Discovery is due to leave the space station Wednesday. Its landing, though, may be moved up a day to preserve science samples being returned from the station. Right now, touchdown is scheduled for March 28.