Published: Fri, March 31, 2017
Science | By Carlton Santiago

World's oldest spacewoman sets spacewalking record

A space blanket floated away from American astronaut Peggy Whitson on Thursday as she made a historic spacewalk outside the International Space Station, setting a new record for the most spacewalks by a woman.

Assuming the Cygnus gets there in time and the spacewalk stays on schedule, Whitson and Pesquet will replace the avionics box, install a wireless antenna and a new HD television camera and help engineers troubleshoot a cooling issue with the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. PMA-3 will provide the pressurized interface between the station and the second of two worldwide docking adapters to be delivered to the complex to support the dockings of US commercial crew spacecraft in the future.

The spacewalkers are scheduled to exit the Quest airlock today at 5:30 PM IST for 6.5 hours of station maintenance work.

Spacewalking astronauts have lost an important piece of shielding needed for the International Space Station. Whitson immediately reported the mishap to Mission Control, which tracked the item as it drifted away. When she launched previous year from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan she became the oldest woman to fly in space and the oldest woman to perform a spacewalk.

The entire space station is protected, in some fashion, against possible debris strikes.

Thursday's spacewalk lasted seven hours.

A five-foot (1.5-meter) debris shield being installed on the International Space Station floated away on Thursday during a spacewalk by two veteran USA astronauts, a NASA TV broadcast showed.

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The space blanket was one of four covers created to guard the station from micrometeoroids, and also for thermal protection. Astronauts adapted, using another piece of hardware to complete the task, Mission Control said.

One of the shield segments being installed on a vacant port managed to escape its tether, floating away before the astronauts noticed.

Midway through Thursday's spacewalk, Whitson will surpass the current record for women of 50 hours and 40 minutes of total accumulated spacewalking time.

The latching end effector on the Canadarm2 robotic arm will be lubricated by the two spacewalkers, who will also inspect a radiator valve suspected of a small ammonia leak.

This was the 199th EVA in station history, the fourth so far this year, the sixth for Kimbrough and the eighth for Whitson. Altogether, she's spent more than 500 days off the planet, also more than any other woman.

The first spacewalk took place March 24 with Kimbrough and French astronaut Thomas Pesquet.

She's scheduled to return to Earth in June, but may stick around an extra three months, until September. Shipper Orbital ATK is relying on the United Launch Alliance's Atlas V to haul up the goods.

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