When you’re an astronaut at the International Space Station, being asked to take on risky spacewalk missions is par for the course. In just the last couple of weeks, astronauts conducted at least two extravehicular objectives in an attempt to repair a powerful space-based cosmic ray detector called the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS-02), and as it would seem, they still need to go on several more to finish their work.
Image Credit: NASA
For those who don’t already know, AMS-02 has helped astronomers conduct cosmic ray-centric space research for more than eight years after being shipped into space by the Space Shuttle Endeavor. Engineers designed AMS-02 with a three-year lifespan, but the observatory has persisted all this time. Unfortunately, its cooling system failing, and this was precisely what prompted NASA to move forward with in-space repairs.
After NASA delivered a care package full of replacement parts and tools to the International Space Station a couple of weeks ago, astronauts Andrew Morgan and Luca Parmitano received word that they would be venturing outside of the safety of the International Space Station to repair AMS-02. The first of such spacewalks transpired on Friday, November 15th, which the second taking place one week later on Friday, November 22nd.
During the first spacewalk, the duo of astronauts removed the instrument’s heat shield, a time-consuming effort that required plucking a plethora of fasteners one-by-one. For the second, the astronauts painstakingly cut into a series of stainless-steel pipes to make room for new coolant pumps that will purportedly breathe enough life into AMS-02 to last another decade.
According to NASA, AMS-02 was never designed to be repaired in orbit, and so the work the astronauts are doing is particularly risky business. If they succeed, then the mission gets several more years to observe the universe; if they don’t, then the mission goes kaput indefinitely.
NASA expects the repairs to necessitate at least four spacewalks in total, and now that two have already taken place, two more should wrap things up. The next spacewalk, scheduled to take place on Monday, December 2nd, will involve installing the new pumps that are expected to revitalize AMS-02’s cooling system. Once the pumps are finished, the astronauts can button everything back up and call it a day.