August 4, 2011

Russians Complete Space Station EVA

Two Russian cosmonauts on Wednesday took a six-hour spacewalk outside the International Space Station to prepare the outpost for upcoming renovations, after it ran into problems when they attempted to launch a mini-satellite in honor of Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.

Television pictures showed Sergei Volkov and Alexander Samokutyaev opening the hatch 20 minutes behind schedule at 1450 GMT. The men spent about 30 minutes tethering themselves in place before taking their first steps into space with the 57-pound mini-satellite in hand.

The Kedr craft earned its name from the call letters Gagarin used during his pioneering voyage into space on April 12, 1961. The mini-satellite was designed by Russian engineers and was supposed to carry out student experiments and emit greetings in 17 different languages. But the craft for some reason only managed to deploy one of its two antennas once it was released into space.

The astronauts and flight controllers realized that the one antenna that didn't deploy was actually missing; that it somehow broke off. Experts have no idea how it may have broken or when, according to spacewalk commentator Josh Byerly.

After debating on what to do for nearly three hours, Mission Control instructed Volkov to release the satellite.

"We have decided to launch the satellite with one antenna," a Russian mission control official was quoted as saying by Interfax.

The transmitting capability will not be affected by the loss of one antenna, but the receiving of signals from the ground may be hampered, said Byerly. The satellite was designed to operate for a few months, and will reenter the atmosphere and burn up in about nine months.

The Kedr craft was developed by Radio Amateur Satellite Corp., NASA and a Russian aerospace company.

It holds messages marking the 50th anniversary of Gagarin's historic space voyage. It also has a beacon for tracking Morse code and cameras for transmitting Earth views, as well as a student experiment to measure atmospheric pressure. The craft arrived at the space station in January aboard a Russian cargo ship.

The failure of the second antenna to deploy was seen as misfortunate accident. "There is no one to blame here," Kedr developer Sergei Samburov told the RIA Novosti news agency.

The mission would not be considered a complete failure if the mini-satellite sage does not live to see a happy ending.

Also during the spacewalk, Volkov and Samokutyaev installed an experimental laser-based transmitting system and retrieved an old space station antenna. But the six-hour mission ended before the two cosmonauts could complete their main goal: moving a Russian cargo crane from one area of the space station to another. That project is now scheduled for a later spacewalk in February of 2012.

Before returning to the safety of the space station, the two cosmonauts photographed portraits of three Soviet space program heroes that have adorned the inside of the ISS since the beginning of the project: Gagarin, chief spacecraft designer Sergei Korolyov and rocketry pioneer Konstantin Tsiolkovsky. They took the portraits out into the vacuum of space as a symbolic gesture, and took numerous shots, waiting to get as much of Earth in the background as possible.

Six men currently live aboard the space station: three Russians, two Americans and one Japanese.


Image caption: Russian cosmonaut Sergei Volkov, Expedition 28 flight engineer, works with Russian Orlan-MK spacesuits in the Pirs Docking Compartment of the International Space Station in preparation for the Aug. 3 spacewalk. Credit: NASA


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