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!
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