Two astronauts ventured outside the International Space Station Friday for the first of four spacewalks to repair a $2 billion cosmic ray detector, breezing through difficult work to prep the device for invasive surgery to splice in new coolant pumps and extend the instrument’s life probing the composition of the universe.
Expedition 61 Commander Luca Parmitano of ESA (European Space Agency) and NASA Flight Engineer Andrew Morgan concluded their spacewalk at 1:18 p.m. EST. During the six hour and 39 minute spacewalk, the two astronauts successfully positioned materials, removed a debris cover on the AMS, and installed handrails in preparation for the subsequent spacewalks.
The duo also completed a number of get-ahead tasks originally planned for the second spacewalk, including the removal of the vertical support beam cover for the area that houses the eight stainless steel tubes that will be cut and spliced together on the upcoming spacewalks.
Today’s work clears the way for Parmitano and Morgan’s next spacewalk in the repair series Friday Nov. 22. The main focus of the second spacewalk will be the access, cut, and label the stainless steel tubes that attach the current cooling system to the AMS. The plan is to bypass the old thermal control system, attach a new one off the side of AMS during the third spacewalk, and then conduct leak checks.
In addition to the overall complexity of the instrument, astronauts have never before cut and reconnected fluid lines, like those that are part of the AMS thermal control system, during a spacewalk. To cut the cooling lines and complete other tasks in this series of spacewalks, scientists, engineers and astronauts on Earth have gone through several iterations of designing, prototyping, experimenting and validating many specialized tools in preparation for the complex work in space.
Space station crew members have conducted 222 spacewalks in support of assembly and maintenance of the orbiting laboratory. Spacewalkers have now spent a total of 58 days 3 hours and 8 minutes working outside the station. Parmitano has now conducted three spacewalks in his career and Morgan has now logged four spacewalks since his arrival on the station in July.