Astronauts aboard the International Space Station went spacewalking to attach new batteries to the spacecraft’s power grid. Commander Shane Kimbrough and Peggy Whitson had some help from a robot that did most of the manual labor before they went out into space.
Flight controllers in Houston used robotics to remotely replace the station’s decades-old, nickel-hydrogen batteries with lithium ion ones that would charge more efficiently. Each battery is around half the size of a refrigerator, and required tiresome maneuvering, Sci-Tech today reports.
Kimbrough and Whitson were left to wire three of the new lithium ion batteries, which were delivered to the ISS by the Japanese. Three more batteries need to be placed next Friday in a long-term project to update the station’s old solar power system.
There are 48 nickel-hydrogen batteries powering the ISS, and NASA estimates it might take two to three years before all of these are replaced. The new batteries are efficient enough that only 24 will be needed, saving space for other items to be delivered during supply runs to space.
Dextre, the robot handyman on the station, took care of removing the old batteries and replacing them, starting on New Year’s Eve. Dextre – short for dexterous – also loosened bolts that were holding metal plates on the batteries. Installing the plates and plugging in power and data cables were left to Kimbrough and Whitson.
Christopher Cassidy, chief astronaut of NASA, said that removing the bolts is often a difficult job for astronauts, so Dextre proved to be invaluable. The robot’s 11-foot arms also made it easy for the batteries to be transferred from one end of the station to another.
Spacewalks are high-risk activities, so reducing the amount of time astronauts spend outside is important, NASA says.
With this activity, Whitson now ties the record for the most number of spacewalks by a woman. She’s had seven, and is now the world’s oldest and most experienced female astronaut at the age of 56.