Spacewalking astronauts routed more than 300 feet of cable outside the International Space Station on Saturday to prepare for the arrival of new American-made crew capsules. It was the first of three spacewalks planned for NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Terry Virts over the coming week.
Altogether, Wilmore and Virts have 764 feet (233 meters) of cable to run outside the space station. They got off to a strong start Saturday, rigging eight power and data lines, or about 340 feet (105 meters). The longest single stretch was 43 feet (13 meters). "Broadening my resume," Virts observed.
NASA considers this the most complicated cable-routing job in the 16-year history of the space station. Equally difficult will be running cable on the inside of the complex.
The extensive rewiring is needed to prepare for NASA's next phase in spaceflight: the 2017 arrival of the first commercial spacecraft capable of transporting astronauts to the orbiting lab. NASA is paying the Boeing Co. and SpaceX to build the capsules and fly them from Cape Canaveral, Florida, which hasn't seen a manned launch since the shuttles retired in 2011. Instead, Russia is doing all the taxi work — for upwards of $70 million a seat.
The first of two docking ports for the Boeing and SpaceX vessels — still under development — is due to arrive in June. Even more spacewalks will be needed to set everything up.
Spacesuit concerns stalled the work by a day. NASA wanted to make certain that the suits worn by Wilmore and Virts had reliable fan and pump assemblies. Two other fan-pump units failed aboard the space station in recent months and were returned to Earth earlier this month for analysis. Corrosion was discovered, the result of water intrusion from testing. The spacewalkers' suits seemed to work fine Saturday.
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