Energy

Can An Emergency Spacewalk Save The International Space Station?

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter

Two U.S. astronauts will perform an emergency mission to replace a vital computer system on the International Space Station (ISS) Tuesday.

Americans Peggy Whitson, the first-ever female station’s commander, and flight engineer Jack Fischer, will put on spacesuits and exit the space station to fix its main computer, which failed Saturday. Astronauts will have to install a replacement computer to help control all major U.S. systems aboard the ISS.

NASA isn’t sure why the computer broke.

A backup computer is keeping the station’s radiators, solar arrays, cooling loops and other critical hardware from failing, but the five-member crew of U.S., Russian and French Astronauts were never in any danger, NASA said in a statement.

Whitson, who holds a doctorate degree in biochemistry, assembled and successfully tested the components of the computer replacement—a “multiplexer-demultiplexer (MDM) data relay box”—Sunday. The spacewalk will last about two hours. It will be Whitson’s tenth spacewalk and Fischer’s second — both astronauts engaged in NASA’s 200th spacewalk earlier this month.

The spacewalk will begin early Tuesday morning and NASA plans to begin television coverage at 6:30 a.m.

Whitson will replace the computer data relay box while Fischer will install a pair of wireless communications antennas on the outside of the station. Whitson previously took part in the spacewalk that originally installed the computer system now being replaced in late March.

NASA’s last emergency spacewalk occurred in late 2015, when two U.S. astronauts exited the ISS to launch the brakes on a robot arm’s mobile transporter.

Whitson is the first woman to command the ISS in 2008 and holds the NASA record for most spacewalks by a woman.  In April, she broke the previous NASA record of 534 days in orbit over her entire career as an astronaut. This is her third long-duration stay on the space station.

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