Astronaut Mark Vande Hei and Japanese crewmate Norishige Kanai floated outside the International Space Station early Friday to reposition two robot arm grapple mechanisms following fix work last month.
The goal of the spacewalk is to move components related to the orbiting outpost's Canadian-built robot arm, known as Canadarm2, an aging but crucial piece of equipment that has undergone a series of repairs in recent months.
Those LEEs are used to grapple incoming spacecraft, and they allow the 58-foot-long (17.6 meters) Canadarm2 to move around the outside of the station nearly like a giant, robotic inchworm. Two spacewalkers will move a Latching End Effector (LEE) from its attachment on the station's Mobile Base System rail auto to the Quest airlock.
Initially, the mission outside the International Space Station was planned for January 29th but due to a software glitch in one LEE unit the ground controllers postponed the mission for February 15th.
Vande Hei and Kanai are scheduled to set their spacesuit batteries to internal power at 7:10 a.m. signifying the official start of the US spacewalk.
Today, Vande Hei and Kanai removed the LEE from the MBS and brought the robotic hand back inside the ISS through the Quest airlock. He returns to Earth at the end of the month.
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Last October, Vande Hei and Randy Bresnik replaced one aging grapple mechanism - LEE-A - and during an outing last month, Vande Hei and Scott Tingle replaced LEE-B with a spare that was launched in 2009.
Replied Vande Hei: "It was great to be a small part of a team in space representing a whole space team on the ground".
The other LEE unit was placed in a storage location. They breezed through those as well, allowing the spacewalk to end a little early, at the six-hour mark.
Kanai and Vande Hei completed both of these primary tasks in under 3 hours, or less than half the planned duration of today's spacewalk. Four other men now live at the space station. This left plenty of time for "get-ahead" tasks, which included the lubrication of the latches and central ball screw inside the new LEE-B. With how fast the space station moves, they were flying over London just 30 minutes later.
This was the third spacewalk this year and the 207th spacewalk in the station's history.