New solar panels unfurl on space station

NASA unfurled two solar wings on the new 17.5-ton (16-metric ton) addition to the international space station early Thursday after overcoming a software problem that delayed the maneuver for hours.

As they opened, the solar wings looked like gold bars in the reflection of an orbital sunrise.

"Big day for space station. Congratulations," astronaut Pam Melroy in Mission Control radioed Atlantis commander Brent Jett. "We're all extremely happy."

The astronauts had adjusted the space station's position before starting, then halted each deployment midway for about 30 minutes so the solar panels could be heated by the sun to prevent them from sticking together, a problem astronauts have encountered before.

NASA engineers ran into one early glitch with the space station's new ferris-wheel-like rotating joint that allows the solar arrays to move with the sun to maximize the amount of power generated.

It turned out to be a software problem. The rotating joint has two motors, and engineers discovered a safety feature that some did not know existed: The machinery's software does not allow both motors to be in drive mode at the same time. Engineers were initially unsuccessful in engaging one of the motors because the software had faulty information that the other motor was already going, reports AP.

They fixed that glitch and while the day's activities were initially three hours behind schedule, the crew managed to recover that time later on in the day.

Space shuttle Atlantis' 11-day schedule is tightly packed, and the arrays needed to be deployed in order for astronauts to go on the third and final spacewalk of the mission Friday. The mission is the first since late 2002 to resume space station construction, which was halted after the Columbia accident in early 2003.

"About the only thing on the timeline that's accurate at this point is probably the postsleep," astronaut Kevin Ford in Mission Control in Houston told space station astronaut Jeff Williams, referring to the time after the crew wakes up devoted to personal hygiene.