NASA astronauts are about to embark on their first ever spacewalk as they venture outside the International Space Station’s (ISS) airlock to perform various station upgrades and maintenance tasks. Scheduled to begin at 8:10am ET (11:10pm AEST), the 189th spacewalk in ISS history will be livestreamed in its entirety, giving you 6.5 hours of sweet, sweet spacewalking.
Commander Scott Kelly might have spent more time in space than any other US astronaut, but he’s never actually performed a spacewalk. He’ll be joined by flight engineer Kjell Lindgren, another first-timer, to perform a number of upgrades and maintenance jobs on the exterior of the ISS, including installing a thermal cover on the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer - the station's particle physics detector, which was installed back in 2011.
The pair will also be making updates to the Canadarm2 robotic arm, an amazing 17-metre-long apparatus that’s used to move supplies, equipment, and even astronauts around outside the ISS. The slightly creepy limb is involved in the upkeep of the ISS, and regularly performs 'cosmic catches’ - grabbing hold of and docking unpiloted spacecraft that ferry equipment from Earth. This is it holding onto the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft back in 2012, and this is what it looks like when it's anchoring an astronaut:
That just might be the single coolest image I've ever seen.
While spacewalks are pretty much the most badass thing you could do, the most important consideration is the astronauts’ safety, so these things are extremely slow-going. Basically, Kelly and Lindgren have to navigate zero gravity in suits - or Extravehicular Mobility Units, if you want to get technical - that weigh a whopping 158 kg (350 pounds), following the meticulously planned out route to the letter.
"Performing a spacewalk is like taking part in a real-life platformer at excruciatingly low speeds," says Sean O’Kane at The Verge. "NASA plans the astronauts' movements down to the minute, despite the fact that the missions typically last 6, 7, or even 8 hours."
Here’s Lindgren getting his tool belt ready for the spacewalk:
And here’s Kelly getting his game face on:
If you can’t stick around for this morning’s spacewalk, another one is scheduled for Friday 6 November. This one will be the 33rd US spacewalk, during which Kelly and Lindgren will try to restore the port truss ammonia cooling system to its original configuration. "A spacewalk conducted in November 2012 tried to isolate a leak in the truss’s cooling supply, but the leak was subsequently traced to a different component," a NASA blog explains.
For those of you playing along at home, here's what we can expect today: