Space milestone as ‘Parthenon in sky’ completed

Two astronauts made history yesterday as the final spacewalkers of Nasa’s 30-year shuttle programme, completing construction of the International Space Station with the smooth addition of an extension boom.

“This space station is the pinnacle of human achievement and international co-operation,” spacewalker Gregory Chamitoff observed before heading back inside.

“Twelve years of building and 15 countries and now it’s the Parthenon in the sky and hopefully the doorstep to our future. So congratulations everybody on assembly complete.”

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Mr Chamitoff said it was fitting for Endeavour to be present for the last spacewalk by a shuttle crew – conducted on the next-to-last flight of the shuttle era – since it was present for the first in December 1998. It was the fourth spacewalk in a week for the Endeavour astronauts, who head back to Earth in a few days.

Mr Chamitoff and his spacewalking partner, Mike Fincke, teamed up with robot arm operator Gregory Johnson to accomplish the last construction job.

“Assembly complete. Amazing,” Mr Chamitoff said once the 50ft boom was latched securely in place. “Boy, this is a big space station,” he marvelled.

All future spacewalks – including one during the final shuttle voyage this summer – will be performed by full-time space station residents. The Endeavour astronauts wished the future spacewalkers well as the hatch to the outside was shut.

Another milestone was achieved: 1,000 hours of spacewalking at the orbiting outpost.

Astronauts had previously logged 995 hours outside for space station assembly and maintenance. Mr Fincke and Mr Chamitoff hit the 1,000-hour mark five hours into their seven-hour spacewalk, the 159th to build the station and keep it humming.

The space station’s newly attached boom was used by Endeavour astronauts on Thursday to survey their ship for micro-meteorite damage. Nasa is reviewing the 3D images and if everything looks good, managers will clear Endeavour for next week’s trip home.