Astronauts replaced an important piece of equipment on the International Space Station (ISS) – and got an amazing view of Earth – in the 200th spacewalk since the orbital post was built. The milestone procedure was delayed by an equipment malfunction.
NASA’s Jack Fischer and Peggy Whitson were due for a six-hour spacewalk to replace a device that supplies electricity and data to science experiments on the station’s outside. They were in the airlock when a problem was detected: The hose connecting Fischer’s spacesuit with the station was leaking water.
“This is the connection point of the component in the airlock itself that provides power, oxygen, cooling water and communications lines to the two crew members while they are in the process of biding their time, pre-breathing pure oxygen, in the airlock itself,” said NASA spokesman Rob Navias. “This is not the suit itself. Fischer’s suit itself is perfectly fine.”
Leaky cooling systems have been a concern since an Italian astronaut almost died during a 2013 spacewalk, when his helmet was flooded by water from the suit.
Fixing the glitch pushed the spacewalk back by two hours, according to NASA. The two astronauts finally departed the station at 9:08 am Eastern time (1308 GMT).
It was the first spacewalk for Fischer, 43, who arrived at the station in April. It was the ninth such excursion for Whitson, 57, who holds a number of space records, including the one for most spacewalks by a female astronaut.
“Oh my gosh, this is beautiful,” Fischer said as the pair worked 250 miles (400 kilometers) above the Earth.
“Isn’t it?” Whitson agreed. The banter was broadcast live on the NASA TV channel.
Fischer also described the Earth as a “ginormous fondue pot, bubbling over with piping hot awesomesauce.”
Despite the fact that their spacewalk was cut short, the astronauts managed to replace the 200-pound (91 kilogram) ExPRESS Carrier Avionics (ExPCA, box) as well as add a special data connector to the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS).
Launched in 2011 on the penultimate Space Shuttle flight, the AMS required repairs due to failing coolant pumps, according to AP.
Fischer and Whitson’s spacewalk was the 200th since the International Space Station was built in 1998. The first spacewalk in history was performed in March 1965, by Soviet cosmonaut Alexey Leonov, and lasted 12 minutes.