CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (AP) – A spacewalk astronaut added to the millions of debris orbiting Earth on Friday, losing a small mirror on his sleeve as soon as he left the International Space Station to work on battery.
Commander Chris Cassidy said the mirror quickly moved away. The lost item posed no risk to the spacewalk or the station, according to NASA.
As millions of space debris orbit the Earth, more than 20,000 objects, including old rocket parts and destroyed satellites, are large enough to be tracked to protect the space station and active satellites.
Spacewalking astronauts wear a wrist mirror on each sleeve to get better views while working. The mirror measures only 5 x 3 inches (7 x 12 cm) and, with its strip, has a mass of barely a tenth of a pound (50 grams).
The mirror broke loose in the dark. Cassidy inspected her space suit sleeve later in the sun, but saw no clue that could explain how the mirror came off.
The rest of the six-hour outing was by swimming.
Cassidy and Bob Behnken jostled the first of four spacewalks planned to replace the last battery in the old station. They removed five old batteries and installed two new ones – which worked well – to take a leap the next time they hit space. They have four more to plug in before the job is done.
“I think we’ve done enough for one day,” said Behnken.
Once all the new batteries are installed in the coming weeks, the orbiting laboratory should be good for the rest of its life, according to NASA. The big boxy batteries – more powerful and more efficient than the old nickel-hydrogen batteries coming out – make the station shudder when it is on the night side of the Earth.
Battery replacement began in 2017, with previous teams installing 18 lithium-ion batteries, half the number of old ones replaced. It’s a tedious job: each battery is about one meter (1 meter) high and wide, with a mass of 400 pounds (180 kilograms).
Their spacewalks are expected to continue until July before Behnken returns to Earth in August aboard a SpaceX Dragon capsule. Behnken and Doug Hurley made history at the end of May with SpaceX’s first astronaut launch.
It was the seventh spacewalk for the two men. Each spent approximately 40 hours in the vacuum of space.
At the end of the spacewalk, Cassidy thanked the cleaning staff at Mission Control in Houston, who were particularly busy during “this crazy and interesting time.”
“Everything must be cleaned and disinfected several times a day, so a special thank you to the surveillance staff at the Johnson Space Center,” he said.
Space walkers also paid tribute to NASA space station program director Kirk Shireman, who retired on Friday after 35 years of entering private industry. “I am sure we will meet him in his future line of work,” said Behnken. “Thank you, Uncle Kirk. “
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