Cape Canaveral, Fla. — Astronauts aboard the international space station ventured outside for more than six hours Tuesday to wrap up maintenance tasks on what was probably the last spacewalk for months.
Commander Ken Bowersox and science officer Don Pettit finished their work early and spent another 80 minutes collecting tools and tethers that had been left outside during previous spacewalks.
Russian flight engineer Nikolai Budarin assisted from inside the station, orbiting 240 miles above Earth.
"I want you all to know how happy everybody is, what a great job you guys did," Carlos Noriega, the spacewalk communicator in Houston, told the astronauts when they returned to the station. "You guys basically set the standard."
After re-entering the station, Pettit marveled at the space suit that allowed him to spend more than six hours floating in space.
"It's incredible," he said. "We're living and working in a place where human beings weren't meant to be."
Bowersox said that he was happy with the work but wished he and Pettit could have performed more tasks. No spacewalks are planned with the two-men crews that will occupy the space station beginning next month.
"We're a little tired here, but it's good," Bowersox said. "It's a good tired."
The three men are supposed to return home in early May after they are replaced by astronaut Ed Lu and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko.
The current crew has been on the station since late November. They had been scheduled to return to Earth in March, but their stay was extended after space shuttle Columbia's accident Feb. 1 grounded the shuttle fleet indefinitely.
The space station's next crew must be smaller because they must travel aboard the more compact Russian Soyuz, which can't carry as many people and as much equipment as a shuttle.
The Soyuz is scheduled to launch later this month from Kazakhstan.
The astronauts successfully replaced a power box on a rail car that moves along tracks on a truss framework, reconfigured a power connector and placed clamps on coolant system lines to prevent leaks.
They also installed backup power lines to devices that maintain the station's orientation.