Two American astronauts, Randy Bresnik and Mark Vande Hei, were tasked with a spacewalk Thursday morning. The focus of the mission was to perform maintenance on the International Space Station’s robotic arm, also known as Canadarm2.
Image Credit: Steve Robinson/NASA
The two-man crew began their spacewalk at 8:05 A.M. Eastern time, and it continued well into the afternoon. NASA initially quoted 6.5-hours for the spacewalk; while it took almost 7 hours in total, the estimate was relatively close.
In particular, the astronauts serviced the robotic arm’s outermost Latching End Effector (LEE), which has suffered from wear and tear associated with old age. Recently, the motors inside the grappling mechanism stalled out, causing reliability concerns.
Canadarm2 is essential for safely docking cargo ships with the International Space Station so that astronauts onboard get fresh food, science experiments, and supplies every few months. Because these shipments are critical for the routine function of the International Space Station, fixing the malfunctioning LEE was of the utmost importance.
To fix the problem, Thursday's spacewalk crew replaced the defective LEE with a new one. Fortunately, a spare was sitting in storage on one of the International Space Station’s external trusses, so all they had to do was switch the old unit out with said spare.
The maintenance should help restore proper function to the International Space Station's robotic arm, but it still needs to be lubricated before it's ready for real-world use. At least two more spacewalks are planned for October to finish the job and perform additional maintenance to the International Space Station.
Canadarm 2 has served the International Space Station for over a decade, and with Thursday’s repairs, it should continue doing so for many more years to come.