Two NASA astronauts have completed a scheduled spacewalk to make necessary repairs to the International Space Station (ISS). The mission was the 206th spacewalk supporting the station’s assembly and maintenance. It was the first spacewalk of the year.
During the spacewalk, NASA astronauts Scott Tingle and Mark Vande Hei replaced a degraded latching end effector, or LEE, on the Canadarm2 space crane’s robotic arm. The Canadarm 2 is a 50-foot-long robot arm that can move from one mounting fixture to another along the station’s main power truss. Japanese astronaut Norishige Kanai operated the robotic arm from inside the station during the mission.
The LEE is used to grab and release visiting cargo spacecraft. It uses motorized snares to lock onto anchor fittings and plug into power, data and video connectors. Engineers noticed signs of wear and tear in the LEE mechanisms several years ago, prompting NASA to schedule missions to replace both units. Vande Hei and NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik completed a similar spacewalk in October to replace the other aging LEE at the opposite end of Canadarm2.
On this mission, the astronauts emerged from the Quest airlock at 6:49 a.m. EST and spent 7 hours and 24 minutes working in the vacuum of space. The first task was to retrieve a spare LEE delivered to the station in 2009 from an external stowage platform. They then needed to remove protective covers before installing the 440-lb. device.
The mission was a success despite a software glitch that left the team running behind schedule. Ground controllers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston experienced a software glitch as they powered up Canadarm2 for the first time. The glitch was fixed by rebooting the robotic arm, allowing the two astronauts to finish their spacewalk by 2:13 p.m.
Both astronauts were able to complete their assigned tasks without too much trouble. This was the first spacewalk of Tingle’s career and the third for Vande Hei. Vande Hei’s cumulative spacewalking time now totals 20 hours and 45 minutes. NASA has another spacewalk scheduled for Jan. 29 where Vande Hei and Kanai will move the LEE removed today into storage on the external storage platform. There, it will remain as a spare in case it is needed in the future.
The live coverage of the spacewalk was delayed roughly two hours due to the government shutdown that closed NASA centers. The shutdown did not affect this spacewalk.