Saturday, February 21, 2015

"Cable Guys" prepare space station for new docking ports

Astronauts spacewalk to prepare the space station for docking ports. (NASA)
The first of three spacewalks to prepare the International Space Station for the arrival of future commercial spacecraft wrapped up on Saturday after astronauts strung new cables in preparation for two new docking ports launching this year.

NASA astronauts Barry "Butch" Wilmore and Terry Virts completed a six hour, 41 minute assembly spacewalk at 2:26 p.m. EST, having laid out eight of the 10 electrical and communication cables in preparation for the arrival of the ports.

Nicknamed the "Cable Guys" by NASA controllers, Wilmore and Virts "rigged a series of power and data cables at the forward end of the Harmony module and Pressurized Mating Adapter-2, and routed 340 of 360 feet of cable," NASA spokesperson Mark Garcia stated at the conclusion of the spacewalk.

The astronauts will pick back up in a few days, and plan to finish the necessary tasks with a third orbital stroll next Sunday, March 1. "The duo will venture outside the space station again on Wednesday to deploy two more cables and lubricate the end of the space station’s robotic arm," Garcia added.

Two Boeing-built International Docking Adapters (IDA) are due to arrive to the orbital outpost this summer and fall. The first IDA is at the Kennedy Space Center with the second adapter wrapping up construction near Houston. Each adapter will allow a visiting crewed commercial spacecraft to perform a soft-dock arrival to space station.

Each 1,150-pound adapter will be tucked inside a Dragon cargo craft's trunk launched a top two SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets. The adapters will require several spacewalks to mate each to the station, and then connect the power and communication cables which are being laid out during these three spacewalks.

Wilmore is the current space station commander, and performed one previous spacewalk last October. Saturday's walk in space marked Virts first time outside a spacecraft. Astronauts and cosmonauts have spent a combined 1,159 hours during 185 spacewalks conducting space station assembly and maintenance jobs.

The spacewalk was delayed by one day to give both flight controllers and the astronauts a break following an exhaustive week in troubleshooting the two spacesuits for contamination of its cooling system. Issues with previous spacesuits forced NASA to return them to Earth aboard a Dragon supply craft for analysis and checkout.

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