Spacewalking astronauts lose bolt and spring

NASA managers downplayed an astronaut's concern about a 1. 1/2 inch (3.8-centimeter) bolt that came flying free Tuesday during an otherwise successful spacewalk to hook up a new addition to the international space station.

Astronaut Joe Tanner was working with the bolt, which had an attached spring, when the washer holding it in fell off. The bolt and spring floated over the head of Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper and skittered across the 17 1/2-ton box-like truss that they were hooking up.

While the washer went out into space safely, Tanner worried the bolt and spring could get into the truss's wiring and tubing and causing problems.

"Not a good thing," Tanner said. "Let's hope it doesn't end up somewhere in the mechanism.

"I don't see it anywhere."

Even though NASA did not have any video showing the bolt missing the mechanism, managers at a Tuesday afternoon press conference said they are certain that the bolt flew off into space harmlessly.

"It's pretty trivial," space station lead flight control director John McCullough said. "It didn't go inside."

Space debris can be dangerous if it punctures space station walls or spacesuits and can jam crucial mechanisms. However, spacewalkers have a long history of losing material in space. In July, Discovery spacewalkers lost a 14-inch-long (35.6 centimeters) spatula that floated away.

"I just hope that bolt is on its way to Mother Earth right now and not on its way" to a crucial joint in the addition, Tanner said.

The free-flying bolt marred an otherwise successful and speedy six-hour, 26-minute spacewalk Tuesday morning. Two other spacewalks are planned for later this week, reports AP.

"You did a phenomenal job and set the bar very high for the rest of the assembly," Pam Melroy radioed from Mission Control when the spacewalk ended late Tuesday morning.

Tanner and Piper zipped through a jam-packed list of arduous but mundane construction tasks, putting NASA ahead of schedule in connecting the addition. With extra time, Mission Control assigned them eight extra jobs of bolt removing and cover unlatching that would have been part of a Thursday spacewalk.