ISS spacewalk starting now!

If you click on the screenshot below (or on its title), you’ll see a live spacewalk from the International Space Station that starts at 7:05 a.m. Eastern time (US) and will last about 6½ hours, so there’s plenty of time to watch. The EVA (extra-vehicular activity) is just about to start as I post this: the astronauts are in the depressurization chamber to take them down to vacuum before exit.  (You can also watch it at NASA TV here.)

Everybody in Houston is in early to monitor the whole enterprise. How cool to walk in space!

CLICK FOR SPACEWALK!

screen-shot-2017-01-06-at-5-38-41-am

As The Verge notes, this activity is to swap old batteries for new (there’s more information at the site):

This morning, NASA astronauts Peggy Whitson and Shane Kimbrough will take a stroll outside of the International Space Station to help upgrade the orbiting lab’s power systems. Specifically, the duo are going to help swap out the old nickel-hydrogen batteries the ISS has been using with new, more efficient lithium-ion batteries. The duo are veterans of venturing out into space, as today’s journey will mark Kimbrough’s third spacewalk and Whitson’s seventh. Their trip also will be the first of two spacewalks this month to install the batteries on the ISS.

Fortunately for the two astronauts, a lot of the preparation for this battery swap has already been done. Six lithium-ion batteries and six adaptor plates were launched to the station at the end of last year on a Japanese HTV cargo vehicle. NASA likes the new lithium-ion batteries because they have lighter mass, making them easier to get to orbit, and they’re supposed to last much longer than the older batteries. So one battery and one plate will be used to replace one pair of the old nickel-hydrogen batteries near the station’s solar panels. A data-link cable will connect each adapter plate and battery pair, and the plates will also be used to store some of the old batteries that won’t be used anymore.

Additionally, everything is more or less in position for today’s walk. On New Year’s Eve, teams on the ground remotely controlled Canada’s robotic arm and a robot called Dextre, moving many of the old nickel-hydrogen batteries out of the way and getting the new lithium-ion ones in the right spot for installation. These robotic operations were meant to help cut down considerably on the number of spacewalks needed to perform the full battery operation. “When we go outside, [spacewalks] are one of the most dangerous things we do as a program,” Kenneth Todd, the ISS Operations Manager, said at a press conference. “So any time we can use station assets that are not the crew to go do a task, then that’s certainly something we want to endeavor to do.”

h/t: Nicole Reggia

12 Comments

  1. rickflick
    Posted January 6, 2017 at 6:21 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the tip. I so often miss these sorts of things and see it mentioned in Google News after it’s over. 8-(

  2. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted January 6, 2017 at 7:03 am | Permalink

    I’m surprised they took this long to swap NMH batteries with Lithium…. or not…?

    • darrelle
      Posted January 6, 2017 at 7:20 am | Permalink

      It is a bit surprising to me too. I’m guessing that the reason is that launch costs are so high, launch frequency so low and the cargo mass per launch so low. So if the batteries are working adequately the priority to replace them with even considerably better performing batteries is relatively low.

      Though it may also be that it has taken this long for lithium ion battery technology to become safe enough for NASA to approve it for manned space applications. It really hasn’t been too long since higher capacity lithium ion batteries would occasionally burst into flames. Heck, Samsung just recently had a recall of one of their mobile devices because of just that.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted January 6, 2017 at 8:50 am | Permalink

        I think you’ve got the main point there : getting the battery types qualified for space flight. That even competent engineers such as Samsung can get caught out is a sign that there be sleeping dragons in battery technology. Essentially, batteries store energy, and stored energy – be it compressed fluids, loads hanging over your head, or the twisted bonds of a nitrate chemical group in a carbon-rich molecule has the potential to unstore pretty damned quick. “RUD” as one of the space flight entrepreneurs puts it : Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly.

        • darrelle
          Posted January 6, 2017 at 9:26 am | Permalink

          One of my favorite acronyms.

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted January 6, 2017 at 11:53 am | Permalink

            It’s well on it’s way towards OED-dom.

  3. TJR
    Posted January 6, 2017 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    UK TV news would call it “the so-called ISS” spacewalk.

  4. Ken Kukec
    Posted January 6, 2017 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    “Open the pod bay doors, HAL.”

    “I’m sorry, Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

    Between Space Odyssey and Gravity, no way you get me to leave the spaceship until we’re back on terra firma.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted January 6, 2017 at 8:55 am | Permalink

      Well, if we’re going to go down that route,
      It’s cold outside,
      There’s no kind of atmosphere.”
      Hmmm, I don’t have that one in my phone. Most remiss of me. Corrected.

  5. Posted January 6, 2017 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    You’d think the sound quality would be better. I’d expect the astronauts to sound at least as good as someone on a cell phone, but they sound pretty much like Neil Armstrong’s “one small step” over 47 years ago.

  6. Posted January 6, 2017 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    “…using a pistol-grip tool to loosen the screws.”

    It’s a drill buddy, just call it a drill.

    Though, NASA could make up for a lot of their budget cuts if they’d just release some of these tools at Sears. I’d totally buy a “Pistol-grip space tool” or “Cylon blaster” however they want to market it.

  7. Claudia Baker
    Posted January 6, 2017 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    Fascinating stuff, but I’m with Ken on this one. No way I’d leave the space ship. Just the thought of it gives me the heebie-jeebies.

    Watching the moon landing as a teenager, I remember feeling almost like I couldn’t breathe, I was so excited. But I did not, for one second, wish it was me up there.


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