Science

Spacewalk mishap: Astronauts lose important piece of space station's protective shielding

The spacewalk formally began at 7:29 am (1129 GMT) when Whitson and Kimbrough switched their spacesuits to battery power before venturing outside the airlock and into the vacuum of space.

She said: "I love being in space".

Now, on her third mission aboard the ISS, Whitson is racking up even more impressive feats-today, she performed her eighth spacewalk, setting the record for most spacewalks performed by a woman.

"Thank you guys, you did an wonderful job, you had to deal with, obviously, the issue early on and came up with a great plan", Kimbrough radioed flight controllers. Whitson immediately reported the mishap to Mission Control, which tracked the item as it drifted away.

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NASA spokesman Dan Huot said the three remaining shields were installed to cover the most vulnerable spots, the report said.

It will be the International Space Station's 200th spacewalk.

The third spacewalk, by Whitson and European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet, now is planned for April 6. The lost fabric shield is relatively large: It weighs 18 pounds and, when unfolded, measures about 5 feet by 2 feet and is about 2 inches thick.

The entire space station is protected, in some fashion, against possible debris strikes.

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To make up for the loss, Whitson and her colleague Shane Kimbrough retrofitted an existing cover outside the space station to serve in its place. The shields were required to cover the port where the PMA-3 was removed earlier in the week and robotically installed on the Harmony module. Flight controllers in Houston moved it to a new location Sunday.

The third spacewalk is scheduled for April 6, with Whitson and Pesquet and robotic help from Kimbrough.

The world's oldest and most experienced spacewoman, Peggy Whitson, broke another record Thursday as she floated out of the International Space Station to set up a new parking spot. The first flight could occur as early as next year.

The 57-year-old Whitson has been in orbit since November. She has spent more than 50 hours walking in space from the station circling 250 miles above the Earth. A shipment containing replacement parts needed for that spacewalk is on hold because of rocket concerns at Cape Canaveral, Florida; the delivery should have been there by now.

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