NASA astronauts Barry Wilmore and Terry Virts have a busy day tomorrow. The pair will conduct the first of three assembly spacewalks. The action is set to start at 7:10 am EST. You can watch it live over at NASA TV.
So, what are Wilmore and Virts working on? Tomorrow will be the start of work on the ISS’ side for the U.S. using its own vehicles to bring astronauts to the space station. The two NASA astronauts will be reconfiguring a portion of the International Space Station for two new docking ports for commercial space taxis.
Specifically, the pair will be adding the first of three outings to prepare cables and communications gear needed by future spacecraft dockings. Besides allowing spacecraft to dock with the ISS, the reconfiguration will allow the ISS station crew to grow from six to seven. SpaceX will deliver two docking adapters to the ISS later this year. These adapters will be installed in a future spacewalk.
Mike Suffredini, space station program manager, told Discovery, “This is quite a bit of work.” He added, “Our plan has always been to have a docking capability in place and operational by the end of 2015 and we’re on track to do that.”
These spacewalks are the first steps towards preparing the ISS for commercial space taxis. Right now, NASA has to pay Russia to get U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station. That costs more than $70 million per person. NASA hopes to be done with these payments before 2018. SpaceX and Boeing both plan to conduct crewed test flights of their space taxis in 2017.
Tomorrow’s spacewalk will be Wilmore’s second. For Virts, it will be his first. Virts jumped back in the simulator for a bit yesterday to freshen up his skills.
“SAFER” virtual reality simulator- the jet pack we can use to get back to ISS if we floated away during a spacewalk. pic.twitter.com/Fp2tiwzpqj
— Terry W. Virts (@AstroTerry) February 18, 2015
A second spacewalk is scheduled for next Tuesday and a third on March 1. As always, NASA TV will provide live coverage of the entire spacewalk.