Three astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) will be taking the first of three October spacewalks today.
NASA says United States astronauts on the station are taking part in the walk - Expedition 53 Commander Randy Bresnik and Flight Engineer Mark Vande Hei.
"The major objective of this first spacewalk is to swap out the degraded Latching End Effector on the Canadarm2 with an identical unit that's now located on the mobile transporter" outside the space station, Judd Frieling, NASA's spacewalk flight director, said at a news conference Monday (Oct. 2).
Their main work involved the latching end of the Canadian-made arm, known as Canadarm2. To tell the two apart during the webcast, look for the red stripes on Bresnik's suit. The Canadarm2 was instrumental during the early days of the ISS when large pieces of equipment had to be moved and installed.
Frieling said wear and tear on the LEE became problematic in August, when the latches inside the grapple fixture "stalled out" and "required a little bit more force than normal to extend". It's the first of three NASA spacewalks planned over the next two weeks. The LEEs, located at either end of the arm, also provide other crucial data through complex electronics, camera and sensors, NASA officials said, but the arm was launched over 15 years ago and is in need of fix. It hasn't caused any slowdown in standard ISS operations, and the crew keeps a spare LEE around in case of just such an emergency.
The three spacewalks have been scheduled with the objective of tinkering around the ISS.
The second and third spacewalks will concentrate on the lubrication of the LEE and the installation of a pair of external cameras. Two latching mechanisms at each end of the arm, called Latching End Effectors (LEE) have been deteriorating.