Two of NASA’s astronauts who are currently in the International Space Station are expected to perform the first of a set of three spacewalks scheduled for this Friday, February 20th. The 6-hour spacewalk, which will be carried out by Commander Barry Wilmore and Flight Engineer Terry Virts, is to prepare the new docking ports for commercial crew vehicles, probably meant for resupply crafts as well as new expeditions.
Wilmore, who was from the US Navy, started training as an astronaut in 2000. He started this mission in September of last year and assumed command of the International Space Station in November of the same year. This will be his second spacewalk.
Virts, who was from the US Armed Forces, also started training in 2000, and was the commander of Expedition 43, launched back in December 2014. This will be his first spacewalk.
Both astronauts have already gone through the basic preparation for this event, including the routine check of their rescue jet packs that will be used as an emergency lifeline should they be untethered from the space station. Though all seems to be in working order, an unfortunate incident from a previous spacewalk is still fresh in the minds of the ISS crew.
In July 2013, Italian astronaut, Luca Parmitano, encountered a water-in-helmet leak during his spacewalk. Fortunately, he was able to rush back to the space station and did not suffer any lasting effects from the accident. This was later identified to have been caused by a fan pump separator issue. The part has since been replaced, and has not caused any more problems so far.
During a routine cleaning of the US spacesuits, however, Commander Wilmore noticed that the fan pump separator of the suit he was handling was making abnormally loud sounds, which might cause another problem for tomorrow’s spacewalk. Wilmore will be wearing a new suit that was recently shipped, while Virts will be wearing the spacesuit with the replacement part.
Kenneth Todd, International Space Station Operations and Integration manager, states that both suits worked whenever they were turned on; and if the current issue with the separator does persist, it will not lead to “a loss of life.”
The spacewalk’s objective is for the astronauts to prepare the external portion of the ISS for docking adaptors that will be installed. These docking adaptors are meant to ease the hooking up of commercial spacecraft to the orbiting outpost that will transport astronauts and cosmonauts to the space station.
This will be the 29th spacewalk for the US on the ISS and will be broadcasted live by NASA starting at 6 a.m. EST (1100 GMT) on February 20th, although the actual spacewalk will start at 7:10 a.m. EST (1210 GMT). Until then, the six-member crew of the ISS has resumed their routines, including their studies on advanced microgravity science, ultrasound eye scans and blood pressure checks, as well as their research on cell culture and Earth observation photography.
Check out the spacewalk at NASA TV.