CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (AP) – Astronauts toured the first of five spacewalks to replace old batteries at the International Space Station on Sunday.
Christina Koch and Andrew Morgan removed three old batteries and installed two new ones just a week ago, making a leap in future work. These new lithium ion batteries are so powerful that only one out of every two old ones is required.
"Incredible work today. We have made great progress," said Mission Control. Koch replied, "It was a wonderful day … we look forward to the rest of the series."
Koch and Morgan venture back on Friday for more drums 400 kilometers away.
The 180-pound batteries (half the size of a refrigerator) are part of the space station's solar power grid. Astronauts have been updating them since 2017 and are now halfway there. The ancients are 10 years old; The new ones are expected to last until the end of the space station's life, providing vital energy on the night side of the earth.
These latest battery changes are especially difficult given the extreme location in the station's wide frame. It's too far for the 58-foot robot arm to reach, forcing astronauts to charge the batteries back and forth. That's why so many spacewalks are needed this time to replace 12 old nickel-hydrogen batteries with six new versions of lithium-ion.
Koch and Morgan took turns holding each drums as they worm-style along the structure. The batteries were so massive that they blocked the visions of space travelers, causing constant upgrades. "I'm very close to you," Koch said at one point. "I have the battery," Morgan replied. So Koch had the drums, and so it was until the work was complete.
They ended up plugging in two new batteries, one more than expected, and removing an extra old battery.
The seven-hour spacewalk ended on another high note, at least for Koch. Upon returning in, Mission Control updated the National Football League: "Good news, the Eagles are ahead 14-0 in the second quarter." She replied, "Go birdies!" The Philadelphia Eagles defeated the New York Jets 31-6.
NASA plans to end its five battery spacewalks this month, followed by a Russian spacewalk. Then five more spacewalks between the US and Italy will be conducted in November and December to fix an essential scientific instrument. NASA is calling this the "spacewalk bonanza".
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This unusual drop in spacewalks will feature the first female spacewalk – by Koch and Jessica Meir – later this month.
Koch is two thirds of the way on a mission of over 300 days. It will be a woman's longest space flight.
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