WASHINGTON (AFP) - Two astronauts from the US space shuttle Discovery, docked to the orbiting International Space Station, began a space walk to start removing a bus-sized module from the shuttle''s payload bay, NASA announced.
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AstronautsScott Parazynski and Doug Wheelock began the spacewalk at 6:02 am (1002 GMT), NASA said. The walk is scheduled to last six and a half hours.
Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli of the European Space Agency (ESA) is coordinating the spacewalk from inside Discovery, helping guide the outside astronauts.
His colleagues Stephanie Wilson, Clay Anderson and Daniel Tani are controlling the station''s Canadian-built robotic arm.
During Discovery''s two-week mission to the ISS the astronauts are scheduled to perform a record five spacewalks.
Tasks will include installing the Harmony module, moving a 16-tonne truss segment, and deploying a third set of power-generating solar panels.
The new module will allow two future Japanese and European scientific laboratories to be installed on the ISS, an outpost considered a key part of US ambitions to send a manned mission to Mars.
Discovery docked with the ISS on Thursday.
The mission is making space exploration history as shuttle Commander Pam Melroy, 46, and the station''s crew chief, Peggy Whitson, 47, became the first women to hold the reins of the two spacecraft at the same time.
Inspections carried out in orbit to assess the extent of any foam-impact damage to the Discovery''s heat shield during launch so far have not turned up any significant concern, said mission official John Shannon.
"We are extremely lucky that we have a vehicle that is in such incredible shape," Shannon said.
NASA has closely watched thermal tiles on shuttles since the 2003 Columbia catastrophe when one of them broke off on takeoff and hit a wing. The damage caused the shuttle to break up on re-entry, killing all seven crew members.
A committee of NASA engineers last week recommended replacing three of 44 thermal protection tiles on the orbiter''s wings. But the US space agency decided the risk was not high enough to delay the launch for some two months to replace the tiles.
The US space agency plans to launch at least another 11 missions to complete ththe shuttle fleet is scheduled to be taken out of service.
The ISS is a 100-billion-dollar (70.3-billion-euro) project involving 16 countries.