As expected, a team of two NASA astronauts comprised of Nick Hague and Christina Koch performed a controversial spacewalk on Friday, March 29th in an effort to upgrade the external batteries that are used by the International Space Station’s solar array to absorb and store energy and to perform other miscellaneous tasks that needed doing.
Image Credit: NASA
It was the 215th spacewalk to be conducted since the International Space Station was first put into service, and it became controversial because it was supposed to be the first all-woman spacewalk procedure in history – NASA astronauts Anne McClain and Christina Koch were supposed to set this precedent.
Unfortunately, those plans were cut short when it was realized that the two female astronauts would have necessitated two medium-sized space suits. The International Space Station only had one medium space suit with the rest being large. Given the circumstances, NASA had little choice but to replace McClain with Hague for this particular spacewalk to ensure the procedure’s completion in the safest manner possible.
According to NASA, the primary focus of this spacewalk was to replace six aging nickel-hydrogen batteries on one of the International Space Station’s two solar arrays with three modern lithium-ion batteries, an upgrade that should result in improved power capacity and power flow efficiency in the long term.
Notably, one of three lithium-ion batteries attached to the International Space Station during a previous spacewalk wasn’t working correctly, so the astronauts made arrangements such that these units could be swapped out robotically with two of the older nickel-hydrogen batteries in the future to restore full power to that array for the time being.
Shortly after completing the primary mission(s), the two-person team moved on to other types of maintenance, such as preparing the rest of the worksite for similar upgrades in the future. This allegedly involved installing fabric handrails that would help astronauts anchor themselves to the spacecraft.
The entire spacewalk lasted for 6 hours and 45 minutes, finally concluding at 2:27 P.M. Eastern time. Another spacewalk is planned for Monday, April 8th, in which McClain will work with David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency to implement a redundant power path to the International Space Station’s robotic arm (Canadarm2) and install cables that will improve wireless communications and networking.
Each of these upgrades is just as important as the next because it will improve the International Space Station’s longevity as an Earth-orbiting space lab. These are important as NASA slowly transitions into its upcoming plans to build a Moon-orbiting space lab for lunar exploration.