Record setting International Space Station commander Peggy Whitson and rookie American astronaut, U.S. Air Force Colonel Jack Fischer, will undergo an emergency space walk on Tuesday to replace one of the two computers used to control major U.S. systems aboard the spacecraft.
The computer, which serves as the primary computing hub for most the U.S. systems aboard the ISS, went down on Saturday, leaving the five-person crew with no choice but to rely on backup systems to manage the $100 billion space station’s solar power system, radiators, cooling loops and other equipment.
The redundant backup systems used to pick up the slack in the absence of the faulty computer kicked in without any gap in performance, ensuring the crew, who hail from the United States, Russia, and France, were never in any direct danger as a result of the malfunction.
On Sunday, Whitson prepared and tested a spare electronics box intended to replace the failed device attached to the external surface of the space station. The now defunct computer, called a multiplexer-demultiplexer (MDM) data relay box, has only been in operation since its installation on March 30th of this year. No details as to what caused the failure have been released by NASA thus far, though they have stated they have said they believe the issue “to be internal to the box itself.”
A similar contingency spacewalk was used to replace another faulty MDM box in April of 2014. That mission was successfully completed by Steve Swanson and Rick Mastracchio of NASA.
Tuesday’s spacewalk is expected to have a duration of around two hours, including an additional task to be completed by Colonel Fischer, in which he will install a pair of wireless communications antennas on the Destiny Lab as Whitson completes the installation of the new MDM box.
Although all spacewalks are inherently dangerous, Whitson is a not only an experienced astronaut, but she holds the title of most experienced female spacewalker in human history. This will be her 10th endeavor beyond the protective shell of a spacecraft. She broke the record two missions ago, when her 8th trip into the great beyond eclipsed the previous record holder, NASA’s Sunita Williams, at 50 hours and 40 minutes.
Although impressive, that’s not the only record the NASA veteran has garnered in her historic career. Whitson is also the first female to ever serve as commander of the International Space Station, a feat she has since duplicated, making her not only the first to do so once, but the first to do so twice. No American has spent more time in space than Commander Whitson, making her the perfect candidate to complete such an important and dangerous task.
Colonel Jack Fischer is amid his first trip into orbit, but he has already seen action outside the protective seal of the ISS as well. Fischer, an F-22 pilot, is no stranger to danger or the stresses of such a high stakes mission. Aside from his military experience, he has also served as a module communicator from mission control on a number of ISS missions and conducting a successful spacewalk with Whitson earlier in this mission.
The space walk will be televised on Tuesday, beginning at approximately 6:30AM EST. The two astronauts are expected to make their way out of the ISS’ hatch by 8:00AM. Whitson, the mission commander, will be wearing a space suit adorned with red stripes, while Fischer’s suit will not have any, in order to make them easy to differentiate while the mission takes place.
Image courtesy of NASA