Tossing Out Space Junk

By  | 

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) - A spacewalking astronaut at the international space station tossed a large chunk of junk overboard Monday, hurling the old equipment into orbit.

Clayton Anderson, a sportsman who enjoys officiating basketball games back on Earth, heaved a 200-pound camera mounting away from the station. His next shot was going to be even bigger: a 1,400-pound, refrigerator-size ammonia tank.

"It looks like a huge star," Anderson radioed to Mission Control as the 4-foot camera mounting drifted away. Mission Control declared it "a fantastic throw."

"Glad to be of service. I'll be sending my bill in the mail for trash disposal," Anderson said.

For the celestial toss, Anderson leaned back on the end of the space station's 58-foot robot arm, as far from the space station as possible. He rocked forward and shouted "Jettison!" as he shoved the outdated camera mounting into space. The mounting flipped end over end as it floated away.

The bulkier ammonia tank was launched in 2001 to provide spare coolant in case of a leak at the orbiting complex. The surplus ammonia was never needed, and the tank itself has exceeded its expected lifetime.

NASA normally tries to avoid adding to the orbiting junkyard, but officials felt they had no choice in this case. The equipment had to be moved, and because of a looming 2010 deadline for ending all shuttle flights, NASA does not have room on its remaining missions to return the tank to Earth.

Flight controllers expect the ammonia tank to orbit for 10 or 11 months before re-entering the atmosphere and burning up.

There should be no danger of a collision between the free-floating tank and station before that happens, officials said. Small chunks are likely to survive next year's fall through the atmosphere; NASA officials hope those chunks will hit the ocean. The 4-foot camera mounting should burn up entirely, much sooner than the tank, because of its smaller size.

The plan called for Anderson to throw the tank in the opposite direction of the station's travel more than 200 miles up. The station will be maneuvered later in the day into a higher orbit to provide additional clearance.

Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kotov stayed inside the station to oversee the spacewalk and operated the crane on which Anderson stood for the junk toss.

Anderson moved into the space station in June. The two cosmonauts have been on board since April.

"Our spaceship Earth is a beautiful place," Anderson marveled during the spacewalk, his first.