Image: NASA handout image shows astronaut Mike Hopkins and Astronaut  Rick Mastracchio replace a 780lb replacement pump on the International Space Station during a spacewalk
Nasa / Reuters

Nightly News   |  December 24, 2013

Spacewalkers complete crucial repairs

The replacement pump is now in place on the International Space Station, following only the second-ever Christmas Eve spacewalk. NBC's Kerry Sanders reports.

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>>> and midnight mass , a message from pope francis, leading his first christmas at the vatican. we'll go live to st. peters.

>>> good evening, i'm cameron hall in tonight for brian, and tonight, after seven and a half hours with some touch and go moments for two american astronauts, a risky and difficult space walk is over in time for christmas . the two americans had to make a critical repair to the international space station . and nbc's carrie sanders has been monitoring the space walk step by step from our miami bureau, good evening.

>> reporter: good evening, a replacement pump is now in place on the international space station . the space walk to position that pump is really only the second space walk ever on a christmas eve . the last one was 14 years ago.

>> and our first view.

>> reporter: astronauts mike hopkins and rick mestrakio floated outside the international space station . the americans working in concert with the japanese astronauts, operating the robotic arm to install a new cooling pump. from command mission control in houston to the crew 260 miles above, step by step instructions.

>> and we're going to install the pump module in this order, bolt one, four, three, two.

>> reporter: the big challenge, say those who have done the space construction before?

>> it was kind of like putting on your scuba gear, and then putting on your sleeping bag , and then a snow jacket and boots and the biggest, thickest gloves you have ever worn and then going up on your roof at night and trying to fix a watch while everybody watches on tv.

>> reporter: years ago, apollo 8 went around the moon, the first for man kind.

>> for the crew of apollo 8 , we pause with good night, good luck, a merry christmas , and god bless all of you.

>> reporter: today? mike hopkins taking a special sleigh ride on this christmas eve , was the second space walk since the pump failed days ago, the most difficult, putting the ammonia into the pump, the danger? the poisonous ammonia escaping, and it did. the ammonia snowfall peppered their suits.

>> i couldn't see any indication of the ammonia.

>> reporter: ammonia is dangerous if it re-enters the space station . five hours, 52 minutes into the mission, orbitting, christmas came early.

>> we have a pump that is alive and well .

>> reporter: the good news, no more problems with the space suits , a small amount of water had entered one of the space suits which caused the delay of the space walk to today. as for christmas , the astronauts will have it off, but clearly with today's success they have already opened their presents.