Cosmonauts Breeze Through Speedy Spacewalk at Space Station

cosmonaut working in spacesuit
This view shows a cosmonaut working outside the Russian section of the space station on Oct. 22. (Image credit: NASA TV)

Two Russian cosmonauts breezed through a spacewalk outside the International Space Station Wednesday (Oct. 22) on a mission to collect old experiments and inspect their orbital home.

Clad in bulky Orlan spacesuits, cosmonauts Max Suraev and Alexander Samokutyaev planned to spend about six hours performing maintenance on the station, work that included tossing obsolete gear out into space. But ended up completing their work in just three hours and 38 minutes. 

The cosmonauts began their spacewalk at about 9:28 a.m. EDT (1328 GMT) by collecting an experiment called Radiometria, which was designed to collect information on earthquakes and seismic activity on Earth. The instrument, which was installed on the Russian Zvezda service module in 2011, was no longer in operation, and the cosmonauts jettisoned the device toward the rear of the space station. [See photos of the spacewalk]

Once that task was complete, Suraev and Samokutyaev moved over to the Poisk research module with cable-cutters to remove cables and bolts holding two no-longer-needed antennas in place. The pair also took swabs from a window as part of an experiment to measure microbial growth on the outside of the orbiting lab. And they took photos and video of handrails and other equipment to document the condition of the parts on the Russian section of the lab.

Despite their efficiency, Suraev and Samokutyaev did find time to take pictures of each other and enjoy looking at the cloud-dotted Earth from above.

"It's so beautiful — look at my view," one of them said just before re-entering the space station. "We had enough walking outside. Time to go home."

A NASA commentator in Mission Control in Houston said the discarded experiment and antennas had "no potential for recontacting the space station" but they will be tracked as they orbit Earth and eventually burn up in the atmosphere.

Today's endeavor marked the second spacewalk for both Suraev and Samokutyaev — and the third spacewalk outside the space station in just three weeks. On Oct. 8, NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman performed a spacewalk with European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst. Wiseman and NASA astronaut Barry Wilmore completed another spacewalk on Oct. 15. Those five men and Russian cosmonaut Elena Serova make up the laboratory's six-person Expedition 41.

Construction on the space station began in 1998, and since 2000, rotating crews of astronauts have continuously occupied the $100 billion space lab. A total of 184 spacewalks (or 1,152 hours worth of spacewalks) have been performed in support of maintenance and assembly on the astronaut outpost.

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Megan Gannon Contributing Writer

Megan has been writing for Live Science and since 2012. Her interests range from archaeology to space exploration, and she has a bachelor's degree in English and art history from New York University. Megan spent two years as a reporter on the national desk at NewsCore. She has watched dinosaur auctions, witnessed rocket launches, licked ancient pottery sherds in Cyprus and flown in zero gravity on a Zero Gravity Corp. to follow students sparking weightless fires for science. Follow her on Twitter for her latest project.