Astronauts kicked off the first of five spacewalks to replace old batteries at the International Space Station on Sunday.
Christina Koch and Andrew Morgan had to remove a pair of old batteries and install a new one delivered just a week ago. These new lithium-ion batteries are so powerful that only one is needed for every two old ones, which are original to the orbiting lab.
The 400-pound (180-kilogram) batteries — half the size of a refrigerator — are part of the space station’s solar power network. Astronauts have been upgrading them since 2017. They’re halfway done.
These latest battery swaps are especially difficult given the extreme location on the station’s sprawling frame. It’s too far for the 58-foot (17-meter) robot arm to reach, forcing Koch and Morgan to lug the batteries back and forth themselves. That’s why so many spacewalks are needed this time to replace 12 old nickel-hydrogen batteries with six new lithium-ion versions.
Morgan savored a South American sunrise as the spacewalk got underway. “Oh my goodness,” he said. “Pretty awesome.” Half an hour later, as the station soared 250 miles (400 kilometers) above the Mediterranean, Koch asked, “What are we flying over? It’s beautiful.”
NASA plans to wrap up the five battery spacewalks this month, followed by a Russian spacewalk. Then five more U.S.-Italian spacewalks will be conducted in November and December to fix a key science instrument. NASA is calling it a “spacewalk bonanza.”
This unusual crush of spacewalks will feature the first all-female spacewalk — by Koch and Jessica Meir — later this month.
Koch is two-thirds of the way through a more than 300-day mission. It will be the longest single spaceflight by a woman.