Thursday, February 4, 2016

Russian Cosmonauts Successfully Complete Spacewalk Outside Space Station

Spacewalkers Yuri Malenchenko and Sergey Volkov work outside the Pirs docking compartment on gear installation and science experiments. Credit: NASA TV

Two veteran Russian cosmonauts returned to the International Space Station (ISS) on Wednesday after replacing experiment equipment that is testing how materials and biological samples fare in the harsh environment of space. Station flight engineers Yuri Malenchenko and Sergey Volkov left the station's airlock at 7:55 a.m. EST (1255 GMT) for what was expected to be a 5-1/2-hour spacewalk, a live broadcast on NASA Television showed. The men finished 45 minutes early and floated back inside the orbital outpost as it soared 250 miles (402 km) above Earth.

The duo began their spacewalk by casting off a flash drive into space, giving a ceremonial send-off to recorded messages and video from last year’s 70th anniversary of Victory Day, said NASA mission commentator Rob Navias.

"There it goes," Volkov said in Russian as he let go of the package with his right gloved hand. "Just beautiful," he noted as it spun slowly, appearing to tumble toward Earth. Spacewalking partner Yuri Malenchenko floated nearby.

"That's perfect guys," Russian Mission Control radioed from outside Moscow.

The cosmonauts installed and retrieved a number of science experiments and conducted extensive photography of the external surfaces of the Russian segment of the ISS.

ESA’s Expose facility was retrieved from outside the ISS by the cosmonauts to place new experiments on the outpost’s hull. 

Expose is a series of chemistry laboratories that place samples in the harsh environment of space unprotected. Subjected to vacuum, radiation, temperature differences and the full blast of our Sun’s energy, 46 species of small organisms and over 150 organic compounds have returned after spending 18 months bolted to the Zvezda module.

NASA, meanwhile, is still trying to understand why water leaked into a U.S. astronaut's helmet last month.

The Jan. 15 spacewalk had to be cut short because of the problem, a repeat of what happened to an Italian spacewalker in 2013. That first incident was considerably more serious, involving much more leakage.

The 4 hour and 45 minute spacewalk was the sixth for Malenchenko and the fourth for Volkov. Space station crew members have conducted 193 spacewalks in support of assembly and maintenance of the orbiting laboratory. Spacewalkers have now spent a total of 1,204 hours and 48 minutes working outside the station.

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