This photo provided by NASA shows talian astronaut Luca Parmitano and U.S. astronaut Andrew Morgan perform maintenance on the International Space Station during a space walk on Friday, Nov. 15, 2019. The astronauts ventured out with dozens of tools and four new pumps for the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. NASA considers these spacewalks the most difficult since the Hubble Space Telescope repairs a few decades ago. (NASA via AP)

This photo provided by NASA shows talian astronaut Luca Parmitano and U.S. astronaut Andrew Morgan perform maintenance on the International Space Station during a space walk on Friday, Nov. 15, 2019. The astronauts ventured out with dozens of tools and four new pumps for the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. NASA considers these spacewalks the most difficult since the Hubble Space Telescope repairs a few decades ago. (NASA via AP)

Astronauts start spacewalk series to fix cosmic ray detector

NASA considers these spacewalks the most difficult since the Hubble Space Telescope repairs a few decades ago

Astronauts launched an extraordinarily complicated series of spacewalks Friday to fix a cosmic ray detector at the International Space Station.

Armed with dozens of dissecting tools, Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano removed two protective covers to gain access to the inside of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. He handed them to his U.S. spacewalking partner, American Andrew Morgan, for tossing overboard.

“OK, 3-2-1, release,” Morgan said as he let go of the 4-foot-long (127-centimetre) shield high above the Pacific.

Later, over the South Atlantic, Morgan ditched the second, smaller cover. “Another great pitch,” Mission Control radioed.

These latest pieces of space junk pose no danger to the orbiting lab, according to NASA. The larger shield should remain in orbit a year or so before re-entering the atmosphere and burning up. The smaller one should re-enter in a few weeks.

NASA considers these spacewalks the most difficult since the Hubble Space Telescope repairs a few decades ago. Unlike Hubble, the spectrometer was never meant to undergo space surgery. After 8 1/2 years in orbit, its cooling system is almost dead.

Parmitano and Morgan will go out at least four times this month and next to revitalize the instrument. Their second spacewalk is next Friday.

Delivered to orbit by Endeavour in 2011 on the next-to-last space shuttle flight, the $2 billion spectrometer is hunting for elusive antimatter and dark matter.

It’s already studied more than 148 billion charged cosmic rays. That’s more than what was collected in over a century by high-altitude balloons and small satellites, said lead scientist Samuel Ting, a Nobel laureate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He monitored Friday’s 6 1/2-hour spacewalk from Mission Control in Houston.

The huge spectrometer — 16 feet by 13 feet by 10 feet (5 metres by 4 metres by 3 metres), with a mass of 7 1/2 tons (6,800 kilograms) — was designed to operate for three years. By installing four new and improved coolant pumps, the astronauts can keep it working throughout the life of the space station, or another five to 10 years. The replacement pumps arrived at the space station nearly two weeks ago, along with an assortment of new tools.

Parmitano, the lead spacewalker, and Morgan trained extensively for the plumbing job before rocketing into orbit in July. They hustled through Friday’s cover removals and even got a jump on future chores.

Next week’s spacewalk will involve slicing through stainless steel tubes and splicing in connections for the new pumps, which like the old will use liquid carbon dioxide as the coolant.

In some respects, this work, 250 miles (400 kilometres) up, is even trickier than the Hubble spacewalks, said NASA project manager Ken Bollweg. As before, the stakes are high.

“Any time you do heart surgery you’re taking some risks,” Bollweg said in an interview earlier this week.

Morgan is an emergency physician in the Army — a bonus for this kind of intricate work. He’s making his first spaceflight.

For second-time station resident Parmitano, it marked his return to spacewalking following a close call in 2013. He almost drowned when his helmet flooded with water from the cooling system of his spacesuit. Unable to talk because of the rising water, he managed to keep his cool as he made his way back to the safe confines of the space station.

Marcia Dunn, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Howard English Hatchery volunteer Joscilyn Jupp poured one of many buckets of salmon fry into Douglas Creek on May 11, 2021. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
35,000 salmon fry released in Saanich park during closed event

Chum from Goldstream Hatchery trucked in to restore Douglas Creek salmon spawning

Reigning women’s World Champion Kaetlyn Osmond, who also took bronze at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, will debut two brand new programs for the 2021 Stars On Ice tour, in Victoria May 15. (File photo)
Kurt Browning, Elvis Stojko hit the ice when Stars returns to Victoria

The star-studded lineup is makes a return after pandemic hiatus

North Saanich has received a report from the Urban Development Institute calling on the municipality to expand and densify its housing options in the face of demographic and environmental changes as the municipality continues its Official Community Plan review. (Black Press Media file photo)
North Saanich asked to create more affordable, diverse housing

Urban Development Institute says community faces demographic, environmental challenges

Ryan Cootes, Erin Bremner-Mitchell, Bill Collins and Mike Williamson of Cascadia Seaweed Corporation are here seen holding up seaweed grown in Barkley Sound in July 2020. The Sidney-based company has organized the inaugural Seaweed Days Festival running May 17 to May 23. (Cascadia Seaweed Corporation/Submitted)
Global expert touts seaweed to open inaugural Sidney festival

Vincent Doumeizel also points to barrier facing the emerging industry

Local cyclist Max McCulloch catches air off a jump in the newly redesigned Organ Donor trail at Mount Work mountain biking park. The Capital Regional District approved its regional parks mountain biking guidelines and a list of short-term actions at the CRD board’s May 12 meeting. (Black Press Media File Photo)
CRD approves mountain biking guidelines that drove spoke between advocates, environmentalists

Guidelines aim to find new biking opportunites in region, while protecting park ecology

An avalanche near Highway 1 in Glacier National Park. Avalanche Canada will benefit from a $10 million grant from the B.C. government. (Photo by Parks Canada)
Avalanche Canada receives $10-million grant from B.C. government

Long sought-after funds to bolster organization’s important work

The Nanaimo Timbermen and Victoria Shamrocks compete in Western Lacrosse Association action in Nanaimo during the 2019 season. (News Bulletin file photo)
WLA cancels another senior A lacrosse season due to COVID-19

Western Lacrosse Association, Major Series Lacrosse announce cancellation of Mann Cup

The top photo is of a real carbine rifle, while the bottom photo is the airsoft rifle seized from a Kelowna man on May 15. (Contributed)
RCMP issue warning: ‘Imitation firearms need to be dealt with responsibly’

A man brandishing his airsoft rifle in public had his weapon seized by Mounties on Saturday

Abbotsford Regional Hospital. (Black Press Media files)
Canada marks 25,000 COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic began

6 in every 10,000 Canadians died of COVID-19 since March 9, 2020

Staff-Sgt. Svend Nielsen, with the 100 Mile House RCMP. (Melissa Smalley - 100 Mile Free Press)
14-year-old boy killed in serious ATV crash near 100 Mile House

Youth was travelling with a group of peers when the incident occurred last Friday

Relief is coming for B.C.’s struggling tourism sector. (NEWS file photo)
B.C. officials set to announce more support for tourism sector hit hard by pandemic

Non-essential travel is restricted between three regional zones in B.C. until at least May 24

This image released by Universal Pictures shows Nathalie Emmanuel, left, and Vin Diesel in a scene from “F9.” (Giles Keyte/Universal Pictures via AP)
The blockbuster movie is making a comeback this summer

Excitement in the industry is growing again for a return to a big-screen normal

More “strings of lights” were seen on May 15, 2021, in night sky over Vancouver Island. (File photo)
Sicamous RCMP Sgt. Murray McNeil and Cpl. Wade Fisher present seven-year-old Cody Krabbendam of Ranchero with an award for bravery on July 22, 2020. (Contributed)
7-year old Shuswap boy receives medal of bravery for rescuing child at beach

Last summer Cody Krabbendam jumped into the lake to save another boy from drowning

Most Read