SCIENCE

Astronauts Conduct Spacewalk To Begin Solar Panel Upgrades On ISS

Feb 28, 2021, 12:28 PM
FILE: Astronauts Kate Rubins and Victor Glover Jr. began their spacewalk outside of the Internation...
FILE: Astronauts Kate Rubins and Victor Glover Jr. began their spacewalk outside of the International Space Station at 6:12 a.m. ET Sunday. Glover Jr. is shown here during a spacewalk on January 27. (NASA)
(NASA)

It was a nice day for a spacewalk.

Astronauts Kate Rubins and Victor Glover Jr. began their spacewalk outside of the International Space Station at 6:12 a.m. ET and ended at 1:16 p.m. on Sunday.

The spacewalk assisted with a continuation of upgrades for the space station orbiting Earth. The activity lasted for seven hours and four minutes.

High definition video streamed live from Rubins’ helmet camera for the first time, providing the clearest look yet at the perspective of an astronaut as they work outside of the space station. Previously, the helmet camera only provided standard definition video.

Both NASA crew members are veteran spacewalkers at this point. Glover had already conducted two spacewalks since arriving at the space station in November. Sunday’s was his third.

Rubins previously conducted spacewalks during her first rotation on the space station in 2016, so this was her third as well.

If this spacewalk seemed earlier than previous spacewalks — especially given that it occurred on the weekend — well, it was. But “it’s not really a Monday through Friday kind of program,” reminded Kenny Todd, deputy manager for the International Space Station program, during a press conference Wednesday.

Rubins and Glover prepared for upcoming solar array upgrades by assembling and installing modification kits.

While the station’s current solar arrays are still functioning well, they are degrading. This degradation is expected because they only have about a 15-year life and were installed in December 2000 — so they’ve outlasted the warranty, so to speak.

Brand-new solar arrays will be placed in front of six of the arrays currently on the station later this year, boosting the station’s power from 160 kilowatts to 215 kilowatts, according to NASA. The solar arrays will begin launching to the space station on a SpaceX vehicle in June.

Rubins will also pair up with Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi for a spacewalk on March 5 to complete a number of tasks, including more solar array upgrade kit installation, venting ammonia from the Early Ammonia System, replacement of a wireless video transceiver assembly, and installation of a “stiffener” on the Quest airlock thermal cover. This will prevent the cover from blowing out when atmosphere escapes whenever the hatch is opened.

This was the 235th spacewalk in the history of the station.

From Earth to space

Earlier this week, Vice President Kamala Harris called and spoke with Glover on the space station.

“Victor, it is so good to see you, the history-making you are doing, we are so proud of you,” Harris said.

Glover is the first African American to fly a long-term mission on the space station in the history of the orbiting laboratory.

During their conversation, Harris and Glover discussed those who came before Glover and inspired him.

“I think about that piece often,” Glover said. “All seven of us up here are a part of an amazing legacy of human spaceflight. It is a time we should celebrate and that we should be appreciative of, but really what I am most excited about is the future of human spaceflight and the fact that this is going to be the future. This is what we’re going to do. We want to make sure we can continue to do new things.”

Harris agreed. “My mother would say to me, ‘Kamala, you may be the first to do many things. Make sure you’re not the last.'”

When Harris asked Glover about his first two spacewalks and his perspective of Earth, Glover said he took the advice of his fellow crew members to “keep your world small, keep your focus on the thing right in front of you and slowly widen out that world-view.”

The first time he saw Earth during a spacewalk, he wanted to revel in it for hours, Glover said. But he focused on the many tasks ahead and the spacewalk was “busy and beautiful.”

Glover also talked about how fragile Earth looks from space, especially our thin atmosphere and “just how special it is for there to be human life on this planet.”

“It makes me want to do all that I can to protect that,” Glover said.

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Astronauts Conduct Spacewalk To Begin Solar Panel Upgrades On ISS