Thu, Oct 17, 2019 - Page 7 News List

Historic all-female space walk moved up to swap device


NASA is moving up the first all-female space walk because of a power system failure at the International Space Station.

Astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir are now to venture out today or tomorrow, instead of on Monday next week, to deal with the problem. It would be the first space walk by only women in more than a half-century of spacewalking.

A critical battery charger failed over the weekend, prompting the change, NASA officials said on Monday.

The women will replace the broken component, rather than install new batteries, which was their original job.

Last week, astronauts conducted the first two of five space walks to replace old batteries that make up the station’s solar power network.

The remaining space walks — originally scheduled for this week and next — have been delayed for at least another few weeks so engineers can determine why the battery charger failed. It was the second such failure this year.

The devices regulate the amount of charge going to and from each battery.

One did not start on Friday last week, preventing one of the three newly installed lithium-ion batteries from working.

The balky charger is 19 years old; the one that failed in the spring was almost as old. Only three spares remain available.

“It’s absolutely a concern at this point when you don’t know what’s going on,” said Kenny Todd, a space station manager. “We’re still scratching our heads looking at the data. Hopefully, we can clear that up in relatively short order.”

Despite the slight loss of power, the station and its six occupants are safe, and science operations are unaffected, NASA said.

The situation is “manageable, but again not something that we would want to live with in the long term,” Todd told reporters.

NASA originally planned an all-female space walk last spring, but had to cancel it because of a shortage of readily available medium-size suits.

Koch helped assemble an extra medium-size suit over the summer.

“Very good that we have 4 expert spacewalkers on board to shoulder this tough task. They are the A-team!” astronaut Anne McClain, who would have gone spacewalking with Koch in March if not for the suit-sizing issue, said on Twitter.

While all four — two men and two women — are equally trained for the repair job, Koch and Meir are the right choices given the future spacewalking workload, officials said.

Since the first space walk in 1965, there have been 227 spacewalkers, only 14 of them women and all but one American.

Meir will be making her first spacewalk and become No. 15.

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