Cape Canaveral (US): Spacewalking astronauts gave a hand to the International Space Station’s big robot arm today.
As the federal government geared back up 250 miles below, NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei and Scott Tingle floated outdoors to install the new mechanical gripper.
Because of the lingering effects of the government shutdown, the spacewalk got started in the morning without live coverage on NASA TV.
An on-air message simply stated: “We regret the inconvenience.” Nearly an hour into the spacewalk, however, NASA TV came alive and began broadcasting the event with typical blow-by-blow commentary.
Space station operations were largely unaffected by the three-day shutdown. Considered essential personnel, Mission Control kept watch as usual at Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Vande Hei performed a similar spacewalk last October, when he replaced the first of two original hands on the Canadian-built arm. This second new hand “a spare” will go on the opposite end of the 58-foot arm.
The bulky bundle of latches “more than 3 feet, or a meter, long and weighing more than 440 pounds, or 200 kilogram” needed to be replaced because of wear and tear.
It’s been in orbit, grabbing cargo capsules and performing other chores, since 2001.
“Make us proud out there,” astronaut Joe Acaba told the spacewalkers from inside. “We’ll have hot chow for you when you get back.”
The spacewalk was delayed briefly because of a problem with the display unit on Vande Hei’s suit. He powered the suit off, then back on, and everything worked.
It was the first spacewalk for Tingle, who arrived last month, and the third for Vande Hei. Vande Hei will go back out Monday with another astronaut to finish the job. The space station is home to three Americans, two Russians and one Japanese.