NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Peggy Whitson are venturing outside the International Space Station today (Jan. 6) to upgrade the orbital outpost's electrical power system.
Kimbrough and Whitson departed through NASA's Quest airlock shortly after 7 a.m. EST (120 GMT), kicking off an excursion lasting 6.5 hours outside the International Space Station (ISS). NASA will air live coverage of the event until 2 p.m. EST (1900 GMT). You can watch the spacewalk coverage live here on Space.com, courtesy of NASA TV.
To figure out who is who inside those bulky spacesuits as you watch the spacewalk, look for red stripes — because Kimbrough is designated extravehicular crew member 1 (EV 1), he is wearing a special spacesuit with red stripes. Whitson's suit does not have those red stripes. [The Most Memorable Spacewalks in History (Photo Gallery)]
"The major objective of this spacewalk is to complete the replacement of the nickel-hydrogen batteries that are currently on board the station with lithium-ion batteries," EVA flight director Jud Frieling said in a briefing on NASA TV. In an interview with the two spacewalkers, Kimbrough said, "The batteries that are out there now have been up here for the duration of the space station, some over a decade and the others even more, so it's just time to change them out."
Replacing those batteries is a lengthy process that started on Dec. 31 with a series of robotic operations, Frieling said. To prepare for the spacewalk, a robotic arm outside the station known as Dextre, or the Dextrous Manipulator, removed the new batteries and adapters from the HTV-6 cargo spacecraft that delivered the equipment along with other supplies to the ISS on Dec. 13. "If we didn't have the robotics helping us out, it would be six spacewalks" instead of two, Whitson said in the interview.
Today's spacewalk will be the first of two spacewalks that astronauts at the ISS will execute as part of the station's big power upgrade this month. On Friday (Jan. 13), Kimbrough will head out once more, but this time he'll be joined by French astronaut Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency while Whitson stays behind. Before today's spacewalk, Pesquet and Russian Cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy helped the spacewalkers suit up and get ready to go.
Kimbrough, who currently commands the ISS, will perform his third spacewalk today. For Whitson, this mission will be the seventh spacewalk of her career. She'll tie the record set by NASA astronaut Suni Williams for most spacewalks by a woman. Whitson holds two other records: she is the oldest woman to go to space, and she has spent more time doing extravehicular activities (EVAs) than any other woman. In 2007, Whitson became the first female commander of the ISS. She'll outdo that record in March when she takes over command of the ISS, becoming the first woman to hold the position twice.