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Spacewalking Cosmonauts Upgrade International Space Station

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Two spacewalking cosmonauts ventured outside the International Space Station today (Nov. 15) and sped through a veritable laundry list of orbital maintenance jobs, with only a stubborn TV camera preventing them from completing their work.

Veteran spacewalker Fyodor Yurchikhin and first-timer Oleg Skripochka, both of Russia's Federal Space Agency, spent about six and a half hours floating outside the space station to install a new staging ground for future spacewalking crews along with several other maintenance tasks.

All went relatively smoothly until their last task, when the cosmonauts were to move a TV camera from one spot to another on one of the station's Russian-built docking modules. Insulation around the module blocked repeated efforts to secure it in place. [ Graphic: The International Space Station Inside and Out ]

Russian mission controllers decided to postpone that job for a later spacewalk since the cosmonauts were running out of time and needed to go back inside.

"Now we have a clear understanding of what is going to be done next," Mission Control radioed.

Another minor hiccup came earlier in the Russian-managed spacewalk when the cosmonauts saw an object floating away and worried that a tool may have escaped in space. They will have to double check their tool bags to make sure they have everything. If an item isn't secured at all times to a spacewalker or the spacecraft, it can easily get lost in microgravity.

Despite starting about a 30 minutes late, at around 9:53 a.m. EDT (1453 GMT), Yurchikhin and Skripochka worked at breakneck pace and were often ahead of schedule.

In fact, the spacewalkers were speeding through their work so fast that at one point mission controllers had to force them to take a break.

When Skripochka appeared overeager to continue working, Mission Control radioed, "We asked you not to work. I can see how he's moving to the handrail. Oleg, you have to stop, you have to rest."

Yet that was easier said than done.

"It is not as easy as it seems to be," Skripochka said, complaining that it was tough to be still. "I think I'll get cold if I stay without movement any longer."

Altogether, the spacewalkers completed a bevy of tasks, including installing the new workstation designed to aid in future maintenance work, removing an old experiment to test an Internet-based control system for the station's robotic arm, and collecting samples from the insulation of an oxygen-generation machine to look for signs of microorganisms there. They also attached a new science experiment to test the effects of the space environment on a series of materials.

The spacewalkers are two of six crewmembers living aboard the International Space Station now as part of the Expedition 25 mission. NASA astronaut Doug Wheelock is commanding the mission, while Skripochka, Yurchikhin, cosmonaut Alexander Kaleri and NASA astronauts Shannon Walker and Scott Kelly are serving as flight engineers