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Olympic torch to go on a spacewalk

TWO RUSSIAN COSMONAUTS will carry the Olympic torch when they venture outside the International Space Station Saturday, November 9, for a six-hour spacewalk to perform maintenance work on the orbiting laboratory.

NASA Television will provide live coverage of the spacewalk beginning at 1:00am Australian Eastern Summer Time.

Expedition 37 Flight Engineers Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) will open the hatch to the Pirs docking compartment airlock at 1:30am and float outside for a brief photo opportunity with the unlit torch. They then will stow it back inside the airlock before they begin their chores 420 kilometres above Earth.

Expedition 38 flight members holding the Olympic torch

Expedition 38 Flight Engineer Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, left, Soyuz Commander Mikhail Tyurin of Roscosmos, and Flight Engineer Rick Mastracchio of NASA, hold an Olympic torch that will be flown with them to the International Space Station, during a press conference held Wednesday, November 6, at the Cosmonaut Hotel in Baikonur, Kazakhstan.

The torch, an icon of international co-operation through sports competition, arrived at the space station Thursday aboard a Soyuz spacecraft carrying three crew members Mikhail Tyurin of Roscosmos, Rick Mastracchio of NASA and Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. It will return to Earth on Sunday, November 10, aboard another Soyuz spacecraft vehicle along with crew members Fyodor Yurchikhin of Roscosmos, Karen Nyberg of NASA, and Luca Parmitano of the European Space Agency.

The spacewalk is a high-flying extension of a relay that began in Olympia, Greece, in October. The relay will culminate with the torch being used to light the Olympic flame at the February 7 opening ceremonies of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

This is not the first time that an Olympic torch has been carried into space, but it will be the first time in which one has been taken on a spacewalk.

After the photo opportunity, Kotov and Ryazanskiy will prepare a pointing platform on the hull of the station’s Zvezda service module for the installation of a high resolution camera system in December, relocate of a foot restraint for use on future spacewalks and deactivate an experiment package.

The spacewalk will be the 174th in support of space station assembly and maintenance, the fourth in Kotov’s career and the first for Ryazanskiy. This will be the eighth spacewalk conducted at the station this year. In December, Tyurin will accompany Kotov on his fifth spacewalk.

All the times of International Space Station programming, key Soyuz event coverage and other NASA Television programming can be found at: nasa.gov/stationnews

Flying free in space

THE CURRENT FLIGHT of Endeavour will see the final spacewalks done by astronauts using a space shuttle airlock. For the foreseeable future, all further spacewalks will be done by Space Station astronauts using the Station’s airlock. And all these spacewalks will see the astronauts/cosmonauts tethered to the shuttle/Station to keep them from floating away.

But back in 1984, a handful of astronauts did what no one had done before and very few have done since…they flew free, untethered, away from their space vehicle.

Using a Buck Rogers-style backpack called the Manned Manoeuvring Unit (MMU), the astronauts could control their movements using tiny gas jets, flying free from the space shuttle and performing tasks completely on their own.

Bruce McCandless flying free with an MMU

NASA astronaut Bruce McCandless became first 'human satellite' in 1984.

Bruce McCandless—seen in the photo above—was the first to test the MMU. He made his historic flight on February 7, 1984 during mission STS 41-B, becoming the first human satellite.

The MMU wasn’t used after 1984. A smaller version called SAFER—the Simplified Aid for EVA Rescue—was developed and tested in untethered flight on missions STS-64 (1994) and STS-92 (2000). All subsequent spacewalking astronauts have used a backpack with SAFER built in, just in case they became untethered and needed to make a safe return to the shuttle’s/Station’s airlock.

Adapted from information issued by National Air and Space Museum / NASA.

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Spacewalk repair video

NASA astronauts Douglas Wheelock and Tracy Caldwell Dyson wrapped up a difficult spacewalk on Saturday (US time) on the exterior of the International Space Station.

The spacewalk became necessary after a failure in the ammonia coolant system aboard the Station.

Heat generated by the Station’s internal equipment and occupants needs to be absorbed and radiated away into space, otherwise the Station would quickly overheat.

Heat is transferred into ammonia fluid that then circulates through pipes inside panels that stick out from the side of the Station. There, the heat radiates into space.

Failure of a pump meant that half the station’s cooling system had gone down, necessitating the spacewalk to replace the pump with a spare kept on the outside of the Station.

During Saturday’s spacewalk, the astronauts got half the work done – isolating the faulty pump. In an upcoming spacewalk, they’ll finish the job by installing the replacement pump.

Video courtesy NASA.

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