CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) - A pair of Russian cosmonauts floated outside the International Space Station on Friday in the first of up to eight spacewalks scheduled for this year to install experiments and prepare the orbital outpost for a new module, officials said.
Flight engineers Pavel Vinogradov, 59, a veteran of six previous spacewalks, and Roman Romanenko, 41, a second-generation cosmonaut on his debut spacewalk, floated outside the station’s airlock at 10:03 a.m. EDT/1403 GMT as the station soared 262 miles (422 km) over the southern Pacific Ocean.
The primary purpose of the planned six-hour excursion is to set up an experiment that monitors plasma waves in Earth’s ionosphere, the outer layer of the planet’s atmosphere that extends to about 370 miles (600 km) into space.
Instruments on two boxes attached to handrails on the forward portion of the station’s Zvezda module also will measure low-frequency electromagnetic radiation, which, among other triggers, has been tied to earthquakes.
Vinogradov and Romanenko then moved to the aft end of the Zvezda module to replace a faulty laser retroreflector that is part of an automated docking system used by the European Space Agency’s cargo transports. The next ship is due to launch in June.
Before heading back into the station, the cosmonauts are expected to retrieve another experiment designed to study how microbes affect spacecraft structures and whether microbes are affected at all by solar activity.
While his crewmates worked outside, station commander Chris Hadfield, a Canadian astronaut, had the less glamorous task of replacing a pump separator in one of the station’s toilets.
“It malfunctioned a couple of days ago, but is now is being reactivated for use by the crew in (the) U.S. segment,” of the station,” NASA mission commentator Rob Navias said during a televised broadcast of the spacewalk.
Two more spacewalks by Russian cosmonauts are scheduled for June to prepare for the arrival of a new Russian laboratory and docking module that is to be launched in December.
The station, which is staffed by rotating crews of six astronauts and cosmonauts, is a $100 billion research outpost owned by the United States and Russia in partnership with Europe, Japan and Canada. (Editing by Jane Sutton and Eric Walsh)