Astronauts have just wrapped up their five months of spacewalks doing robot arm repair work on the International Space Station.
The robot arm repair work sought to fix the issues with the Canadian-built, 58-foot appendage, replacing both of the aging mechanical hands starting back in October and January. The job was accomplished by NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei as well as Japan’s Norishige Kanai, where one of the old hands were moved to a long-term storage location outside of the International Space Station, while the other was brought inside in order to be returned to Earth for repairs and an eventual return to the station.
The last mission of the robot arm repair work was originally planned to be finished far earlier than it was, but there were complications with the new hand that was installed last month. Ground controllers were eventually able to solve the problem, but then further delays were caused by the late arrival of a Russian supply ship.
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The need for robot arm repair work isn’t unexpected – especially considering that the hands are original space station parts that have been in orbit since 2001. Each hand is made up of a bulky bundle of latches, measuring more than three feet in length and weighing more than 440 pounds.
The actual robot arm repair work, once the most recent spacewalk started, finished faster than intended, with Kanai and Vande Hei actually being able to accomplish some extra chores on the exterior of the station before the venture outside ended around the six-hour mark.
The Associated Press reports that Mission control messaged the astronauts, stating “Awesome job again, with everything completed…We’re all happy here.”
Vande Hei replied that “It was great to be a small part of a team in space representing a whole space team on the ground.”
The view while taking the spacewalk was particularly spectacular, with the astronauts doing the robot arm repair work as the sun rose over Peru, around 250 miles below. With how fast the space station moves, they were flying over London just 30 minutes later.
Vande Hei radioed that “It’s an amazing view over someplace that’s got lots of snow.”
This robot arm repair work marked the fourth spacewalk for Vande Hei, but this was the first for Kanai. The Japanese astronaut is a surgeon who arrived at the space station back in December. In order to assist the novice Kanai on the robot arm repair work, Akihiko Hoshide, an experienced Japanese astronaut who had previously been on the space station, gave directions to the spacewalkers from his position at Mission Control in Houston.
With the robot arm repair work finally finished, the International Space Station returns to good condition moving forward into 2018. Recent budget concerns with the new United States administration may soon cut funding for the Space Station and its projects, which would be a major blow to the operation of the site due to the large portion of the expenses that the United States currently covers. The International Space Station was scheduled to be in orbit for several more years, and NASA is seeking to secure funding for their projects wherever they can.