NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Peggy Whitson began their more than six-hour spacewalk this morning at 7:23 am EST. The veteran pair floated outside to install adapter plates and plug in electrical connections for three new lithium-ion batteries installed on the station’s starboard (right-hand side when facing forward) truss.
The lithium-ion batteries are replacing older nickel-hydrogen batteries. These new ones are cheaper, have a lighter mass and should last longer than the older batteries. Plus, NASA was beginning to run into some issues with parts for the nickel-hydrogen batteries according to Kenneth Todd, the ISS Operations Manager.
“It made all the sense in the world when we went down this path several years ago,” said Todd about the new batteries.
The change from nickel-hydrogen to lithium-ion actually began while most of us were watching Clemson shutout Ohio State. Over the New Years weekend, ground controllers on Earth carefully wielded the Canadian-built ‘Dextre’ Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator to install three of the new batteries. NASA describes the ground controllers work as “a remarkable demonstration of robotic prowess.”
It’s these three batteries that Kimbrough and Whitson are plugging electrical connections into today.
Ground controllers will use the robotic arm to install three more batteries between today’s spacewalk and a second spacewalk set for January 13. The robotic arm will also remove five more old batteries before the second spacewalk.
One of the adapters being installed today will house three of the old, nickel-hydrogen batteries. They will stay on the station, but won’t be active. Nine of the old batteries will eventually be destroyed when Japan’s H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV) deorbits and burns up in the Earth’s atmosphere later this month.
Just another spacewalk for Kimbrough and Whitson
The pair are no stranger to taking a stroll into the final frontier. Today marks Kimbrough’s third spacewalk. It’s his first since 2008 when he performed two spacewalks to help expand the living quarters of the International Space Station.
Whitson is even more experienced and is conducting her seventh spacewalk. Once today’s spacewalk is in the books, she will have spent more than 40 hours of cumulative time in EVA. That will place her in the top 15 for total EVA time. The NASA record belongs to Michael Lopez-Algeria who spent more than 67 hours in EVA across 10 spacewalks. The record across all agencies belongs to Russia’s Anatoly Solovyev who conducted 16 spacewalks and more than 82 hours in EVA.
Today’s spacewalk is just the beginning for the ISS battery switch. The two spacewalks this month will replace a portion of the old batteries. NASA will continue delivering lithium-ion batteries and adapter plates later this year.
Let’s wrap it up with a stunning view of the Baja Peninsula from Shane Kimbrough.
— Shane Kimbrough (@astro_kimbrough) January 4, 2017