Source AP ©

Astronauts rid international space station of large pieces of junk

Two astronauts got outside the international space station Monday to rid the orbiting complex of some large pieces of junk.

NASA spacewalker Clayton Anderson, a sportsman who enjoys officiating basketball back on Earth, had the enviable job of heaving a 1,400-pound, refrigerator-size ammonia tank overboard with his gloved hands. He also was supposed to toss out a couple other outdated pieces of equipment during the morning excursion, with help from Russian crewmate Fyodor Yurchikhin.

"I'm outside," Anderson informed Mission Control as he emerged from the hatch.

The ammonia tank was launched in 2001 to provide spare coolant in case of a leak at the station. The surplus ammonia was never needed, and the tank itself has exceeded its lifetime warranty. Because of the looming 2010 deadline for ending all shuttle flights, NASA does not have any 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. They say there should be no danger of a collision, before then, between the free-floating tank and station.

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

Other junk being discarded during Monday's spacewalk: 200 pounds of camera-mounting equipment and an attachment mechanism.

Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kotov stayed inside the station to oversee the spacewalk and operate the crane during Anderson's tank toss.

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

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