Thursday 24 October 2019

Spacewalking astronauts finish months of robot arm repairs

The last spacewalk in the series had been postponed because of complications with a robotic hand installed last month.

Space Station (Nasa/AP)
Space Station (Nasa/AP)

By Marcia Dunn

Spacewalking astronauts have wrapped up months of repair work on the International Space Station’s big robot arm.

The Canadian-built, 58ft robot arm had both of its ageing mechanical hands replaced on spacewalks in October and January.

Nasa astronaut Mark Vande Hei and Japan’s Norishige Kanai quickly moved one of the old hands to a long-term storage location outside, and prepped the other to bring it back inside so it can be returned to Earth for a tun-up and then flown back up.

This last spacewalk in the series should have been completed by now, but was postponed because of complications with the robotic hand that was installed last month. Ground controllers eventually solved the problem.

Further delays were caused by this week’s late arrival of a Russian supply ship.

The old mechanical hands are original space station parts, in orbit since 2001. Each hand — a bulky bundle of latches — is more than 3ft long and over 440lb.

Mr Vande Hei and Mr Kanai accomplished their main objectives so fast they had time to tackle extra chores.

“Great job, guys,” Mission Control radioed.

The astronauts emerged from the orbiting complex as the sun rose over Peru, 250 miles below. Half an hour later, they were soaring over London and, 15 minutes after that, over Turkmenistan.

“It’s an amazing view over some place that’s got lots of snow … or maybe not,” radioed Mr Vande Hei, making his fourth spacewalk. He returns to Earth at the end of this month.

It was the first spacewalk for Mr Kanai, a surgeon who arrived at the space station in December.

An experienced Japanese astronaut who previously visited the station, Akihiko Hoshide, relayed directions to the spacewalkers from Mission Control in Houston.

Four other men currently live at the space station.

PA Media

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