International Space Station astronauts Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer were given short notice over the weekend about having to conduct an urgent spacewalk to repair faulty electronic equipment outside the space station.
The two crewmembers from Expedition 51 suited up and began the spacewalk at 8 A.M. EST time on Tuesday to replace a multiplexer-demultiplexer (MDM) data relay box that failed Saturday morning; fortunately, none of the astronauts aboard the ISS were in any imminent danger as a result of the faulty component.
Image Credit: NASA
According to NASA, the 50-pound data relay box is important for the proper operation of various equipment on the ISS, including solar arrays, cooling loops, and radiators, among other things.
Fortunately, the defective unit wasn’t getting in the way of any typical operations on the International Space Station, and replacing it as soon as possible helps to ensure that this will remain the case for a long time going forward.
There is more than one data relay box like this one on the ISS, and the second one was reportedly functioning as expected. This redundant system helps serve as a backup in situations like this one where one fails, as the other can pick up the slack.
Whitson reportedly prepared and tested a replacement data relay box on Sunday inside of the ISS just after it was confirmed that there would be an emergency spacewalk on Tuesday. It was that replacement that was bolted to the ISS Tuesday morning.
Because spacewalks are dangerous and risky maneuvers, especially given the water leak problems that have been occuring frequently with NASA's aging space suits, the space agency likes to get as much done as possible on a single spacewalk rather than doing more of them than they have to. For this reason, the astronauts were also tasked with installing wireless communicators outside the ISS after the repair was completed, effectively killing two birds with one stone.
You can watch parts of the spacewalk in the video excerpt below:
This marks the 201st American spacewalk in history, and closely tails the 200th American spacewalk that took place just 10 days ago by the same two astronauts. Whitson is the currently world’s most experienced female astronaut and holds the current record for the highest number of spacewalks for an American astronaut; 10 in total.