CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) – A space-walking astronaut on Friday contributed to the millions of pieces of debris circling the Earth and lost a small mirror on its sleeve as soon as it came out of the International Space Station for battery work.
Commander Chris Cassidy said the mirror drifted away quickly. The lost object posed no risk to the spacewalk or station, according to NASA.
As millions of pieces of space debris orbit the Earth, more than 20,000 items, including old rocket parts and broken satellites, are large enough to be tracked to protect the space station and the working satellites.
Space-walking astronauts wear a wrist mirror on each sleeve for better visibility while working. The mirror is only 5 by 3 inches (7 by 12 centimeters) and, together with its band, has a mass of barely a tenth of a pound (50 grams).
The mirror came loose in the dark. Cassidy later inspected his sleeve of the spacesuit in the sunlight, but saw no evidence to explain how the mirror came off.
The rest of the six-hour spacewalk went smoothly.
Cassidy and Bob Behnken rushed through the first of four planned spacewalks to replace the last group of old station batteries. They removed five old batteries and installed two new ones – which worked fine – and got a jump on their next spacewalk on Wednesday. They have to plug in four more before the job is done.
“I think we’ve done enough for one day,” said Behnken.
Once all new batteries are installed in the coming weeks, the job lab should be fine for the rest of its life, according to NASA. The large, boxy batteries – more powerful and efficient than the old nickel-hydrogen batteries that come out – cause the station to buzz when it’s on the night side of Earth.
The replacement of the batteries started in 2017, with previous crews installing 18 lithium-ion batteries, half as many as the old ones. It’s laborious work: each battery is about a meter high and wide, with a mass of 400 pounds (180 kilograms).
Their spacewalks are expected to continue through July before Behnken returns to Earth in August aboard a SpaceX Dragon capsule. Behnken and Doug Hurley made history in late May with SpaceX’s first launch of the astronaut.
This was the seventh spacewalk for both men. Each spent about 40 hours in the vacuum of space.
At the end of the spacewalk, Cassidy thanked Mission Control’s cleaning staff in Houston for being especially busy during “this crazy, interesting time.”
“Everything needs to be cleaned and sanitized several times a day, so a special shout out to the Johnson Space Center keeper,” he said.
The spacewalkers also paid tribute to NASA’s space station program manager, Kirk Shireman, who retired on Friday after 35 years to enter private industry. “I’m sure we’ll run into him in his future job,” said Behnken. “Thank you, Uncle Kirk.”
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