Two spacewalkers installed a camera on the outside of the international space station Monday and tossed overboard a surplus data-collecting device, sending it spinning off into the void like a spiraling football.
“How’s that for a Hail Mary pass?” American astronaut William McArthur Jr. radioed.
“That was pretty impressive,” Mission Control responded.
McArthur and his Russian crewmate aboard the space station, Valery Tokarev, left the orbiting outpost unmanned during the nearly 5½-hour spacewalk.
Normally, one crew member stays aboard while two others venture outside. But the space station crew has been reduced to two since the space shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003, and it has been left empty nine times during spacewalks since then.
The new camera will help space station astronauts add new segments onto the orbiting station.
The device thrown overboard was once used to collect data on electrical activity around the space station. It was designed to work for only a few months and was no longer needed.
Engineers were afraid pieces might break off and damage the space station, so they decided to cut it loose. The device, which weighs about 60 pounds and has solar panels that extend about 2 feet, is expected to burn up in the atmosphere in about three months.
“It’s a good day in space,” McArthur said as he and Tokarev wrapped up their work. “I’m happy as a clam.”
The spacewalking pair helped each other into their spacesuits without the assistance of a third crew member.
The spacewalk was delayed by an hour because of trouble with the U.S. airlock, which did not depressurize completely at first. But the pair quickly made up for lost time as they worked outside.
It was the first time in two years that spacewalkers exited through the U.S. airlock. The station’s Russian airlock and spacesuits had been used in recent years because of cooling and contamination problems with the U.S. airlock and spacesuits.
When NASA returned to manned spaceflight with the launch of Discovery in July, the shuttle brought new U.S. spacesuits.