Cosmonauts Prepare for Today's Spacewalk

Two Russian Cosmonauts are set to install orbital debris protection panels on the International Space Station (ISS) during a spacewalk later today.

As part of the nearly 6-hour excursion, Expedition 15 Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and flight engineer Oleg Kotov will install the the Service Module Debris Protection (SMDP) panels to the Zvezda service module of the ISS. They will also reroute a Global Positioning System antenna cable to be used with the European Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), an unpiloted cargo carrier scheduled to make its first launch later this year.

The aluminum panels vary in size, but are about an inch thick and measure about 2 by 3 feet (0.6 to 1 meter). Each one weighs around 15 to 20 pounds (7 to 9 kilograms).

When shielding installation is completed, Zvezda will be protected by a total of 23 SMDP panels. Six were installed during a spacewalk in 2002; five will be installed during today’s spacewalk; and the remaining panels will be installed during another spacewalk on June 6.

The panels are designed to protect against small- and medium-sized micro meteoroid orbital debris (mmod), which includes everything from cosmic dust and micro-meteorites to manmade particles shed by launch vehicles.

“Putting these shields will improve the overall protection of the space station,” said ISS Deputy Manager Kirk Shireman.

NASA employs a different strategy to protect against larger particles that are about 4 inches (10 cm) in diameter or larger.

“The consequences of being hit by one of these large particles would be catastrophic,” said ISS Deputy Manager Kirk Shireman. “The shielding protects us from the small particles. The really large pieces we can actually track with ground radars and assets that we have…and we’ll actually maneuver the space station out of the way of those.”

Yurchikhin will be the lead spacewalker, EV1, and wear the Russian Orlan spacesuit with red stripes. Kotov, EV2, will wear the suit with blue stripes. Today’s spacewalk will be the first for both cosmonauts.

“It will be a very interesting activity,” Kotov said.

Flight engineer Sunita Williams will serve as intravehicular officer for both spacewalks, advising and aiding the spacewalkers if required.

"I'm really excited for them and can't wait to take their picture out there," Williams said.

The spacewalk is scheduled to begin at 2:20 pm EDT (1820 GMT) and end at about 8:20 pm EDT (0020 GMT). Click here to watch the spacewalk live on’s dedicated NASA television feed.

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Staff Writer

Ker Than is a science writer and children's book author who joined as a Staff Writer from 2005 to 2007. Ker covered astronomy and human spaceflight while at, including space shuttle launches, and has authored three science books for kids about earthquakes, stars and black holes. Ker's work has also appeared in National Geographic, Nature News, New Scientist and Sky & Telescope, among others. He earned a bachelor's degree in biology from UC Irvine and a master's degree in science journalism from New York University. Ker is currently the Director of Science Communications at Stanford University.