This photo provided by NASA shows talian astronaut Luca Parmitano and U.S. astronaut Andrew Morgan perform maintenance on the International Space Station during a space walk on Friday, Nov. 15, 2019. The astronauts ventured out with dozens of tools and four new pumps for the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. NASA considers these spacewalks the most difficult since the Hubble Space Telescope repairs a few decades ago. (NASA via AP)

Astronauts start spacewalk series to fix cosmic ray detector

NASA considers these spacewalks the most difficult since the Hubble Space Telescope repairs a few decades ago

Astronauts launched an extraordinarily complicated series of spacewalks Friday to fix a cosmic ray detector at the International Space Station.

Armed with dozens of dissecting tools, Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano removed two protective covers to gain access to the inside of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. He handed them to his U.S. spacewalking partner, American Andrew Morgan, for tossing overboard.

“OK, 3-2-1, release,” Morgan said as he let go of the 4-foot-long (127-centimetre) shield high above the Pacific.

Later, over the South Atlantic, Morgan ditched the second, smaller cover. “Another great pitch,” Mission Control radioed.

These latest pieces of space junk pose no danger to the orbiting lab, according to NASA. The larger shield should remain in orbit a year or so before re-entering the atmosphere and burning up. The smaller one should re-enter in a few weeks.

NASA considers these spacewalks the most difficult since the Hubble Space Telescope repairs a few decades ago. Unlike Hubble, the spectrometer was never meant to undergo space surgery. After 8 1/2 years in orbit, its cooling system is almost dead.

Parmitano and Morgan will go out at least four times this month and next to revitalize the instrument. Their second spacewalk is next Friday.

Delivered to orbit by Endeavour in 2011 on the next-to-last space shuttle flight, the $2 billion spectrometer is hunting for elusive antimatter and dark matter.

It’s already studied more than 148 billion charged cosmic rays. That’s more than what was collected in over a century by high-altitude balloons and small satellites, said lead scientist Samuel Ting, a Nobel laureate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He monitored Friday’s 6 1/2-hour spacewalk from Mission Control in Houston.

The huge spectrometer — 16 feet by 13 feet by 10 feet (5 metres by 4 metres by 3 metres), with a mass of 7 1/2 tons (6,800 kilograms) — was designed to operate for three years. By installing four new and improved coolant pumps, the astronauts can keep it working throughout the life of the space station, or another five to 10 years. The replacement pumps arrived at the space station nearly two weeks ago, along with an assortment of new tools.

Parmitano, the lead spacewalker, and Morgan trained extensively for the plumbing job before rocketing into orbit in July. They hustled through Friday’s cover removals and even got a jump on future chores.

Next week’s spacewalk will involve slicing through stainless steel tubes and splicing in connections for the new pumps, which like the old will use liquid carbon dioxide as the coolant.

In some respects, this work, 250 miles (400 kilometres) up, is even trickier than the Hubble spacewalks, said NASA project manager Ken Bollweg. As before, the stakes are high.

“Any time you do heart surgery you’re taking some risks,” Bollweg said in an interview earlier this week.

Morgan is an emergency physician in the Army — a bonus for this kind of intricate work. He’s making his first spaceflight.

For second-time station resident Parmitano, it marked his return to spacewalking following a close call in 2013. He almost drowned when his helmet flooded with water from the cooling system of his spacesuit. Unable to talk because of the rising water, he managed to keep his cool as he made his way back to the safe confines of the space station.

Marcia Dunn, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Snowfall warning continues for parts of B.C.’s Interior

First significant snowfall of the season prompts Environment Canada warning

Hagensborg Water District ratepayers vote to dissolve district

In a close vote of 68 to 63, ratepayers have chosen to dissolve the water district

Bella Coola residents rely on food bank support

Your volunteers at the food bank work year-round, but are especially busy at Christmas

Nimpkish back in service while NSW undergoes repairs

The Northern Sea Wolf sustained damage to its propellers from a log strike in November

Nature Conservancy of Canada purchases Tidal Flats

Land critical habitat for migratory birds, mammals and fish

‘Kind of lacking:’ Injured Bronco wonders why Canada won’t fund spinal surgery

“I think if Canada can step in and advance this program”

Police negotiate with man barricaded in Victoria synagogue

Children evacuated from daycare on site

Dance cancelled after Alberta teacher’s climate lesson prompts online threats

School district near Red Deer cancelled annual family dance due to Facebook comments

Feds not enforcing standards on Hungarian duck imports, B.C. farmer says

‘You have no way of knowing what’s in the bag’

In surprise move, defence won’t call witnesses for accused in Abbotsford school killing

‘Change of instructions’ results in defence closing case without calling evidence

B.C. VIEWS: An engine that hums right along

First Nations are leading a new surge of investment in B.C.

74% of 911 calls are from cellphones, so know your location: E-Comm

Cell tower triangulation generally only narrows location down to the block someone is calling from

No negligence in RCMP actions in B.C. teen’s overdose death: Watchdog

Police acted properly when they responded to the first reports of the boy being in distress

320 years since the ‘Big One’ doesn’t mean it’s overdue: B.C. professor

‘It could happen today, tomorrow or 100 years from now’

Most Read