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SPACE SHUTTLE
Associated Press Astronaut Jerry Ross exits the hatch of the international space station during a televised spacewalk Saturday.

Associated Press

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) - The world's first pair of spacewalking grandfathers, nicknamed the Silver Team, floated outside and finished bolting a 44-foot girder to the international space station on Saturday.

Shuttle Atlantis astronauts Jerry Ross and Lee Morin had to contend with some sticky bolts, but still managed to snap two three-pronged struts into place and complete the work begun by two of their colleagues earlier in the week.

It was the first spacewalk ever by two grandfathers, albeit relatively young ones.

"We've got the Silver Team on television," one of their fellow astronauts joked as Ross and Morin emerged from the space station.

The 54-year-old Ross, a retired Air Force colonel with eight spacewalks to his credit, is NASA's most experienced spacewalker. He is on a record-setting seventh space flight.

Morin is a 49-year-old Navy doctor on his first space trip.

"How do you like this fraternity so far?" Ross asked Morin as they worked 240 miles up.

"It's pretty wild," Morin replied.

Each man has two grandchildren. But Morin has been a grandpa longer - eight years.

Before the two went out, Mission Control wished them well and said everyone was looking forward to "watching the grandfathers stroll in space."

But it was hardly a stroll. The spacewalkers had 54 bolts to loosen or tighten on the girder, as well as a slew of cable connectors, clamps and latches to hook up.

"All in a day's work," Ross said as he slaved over bolts.

The spacewalk lasted 71/2 hours, with the only real problems being a stuck bolt in the cable-reel system for the girder railcar and a balky hatch that required extra effort to close and lock. "A big congratulations to the Silver Team," astronaut Steven Smith radioed from inside.

Before the flight, Ross said he hoped people would be inspired by a couple of spacewalking grandfathers. "As long as you have a mind to and the determination to, you can do just about anything," he said.

Saturday's spacewalk was the second of four needed to install the girder, 141/2 feet in diameter and nearly 27,000 pounds. On Thursday, two other shuttle astronauts bolted down the first set of attach struts and connected power cables and fluid lines.

Spacewalk No. 3 is set for Sunday and No. 4 for Tuesday.

The $790 million girder and attached railcar for hauling cargo, delivered by Atlantis last week, are the centerpiece of a framework that eventually will extend 356 feet and support nearly an acre of solar panels and radiators.

All the electricity-generating panels will be needed for other countries' laboratories that are supposed to be launched in a few years.

The long-term future of the space station is uncertain, however, because of billions of dollars in projected cost overruns.

In a speech Friday at Syracuse University, NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe said the space agency needs to focus on completing a scaled-back version of the station in 2004. Any U.S. additions beyond that, for now anyway, are "flights of fancy," he said.On the Net: NASA: http://spaceflight.nasa.gov

Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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