Russian cosmonauts carry out ISS spacewalk

By Paul Rincon
Science editor, BBC News website

  • Published
Sergey Volkov waves to the cameraImage source, NASA
Image caption,
Sergey Volkov waves to the camera during the 193rd spacewalk on the ISS

Two Russian cosmonauts have been carrying out a spacewalk to install experiments on the outside of the International Space Station (ISS).

Sergei Volkov and Yuri Malenchenko initiated the second spacewalk of 2016 from the Russian segment's Pirs docking compartment.

They worked outside for four hours and 45 minutes, finishing 45 minutes early.

A spacewalk on 15 January by Briton Tim Peake and American Tim Kopra was halted when water was found in Kopra's helmet.

Lt Col Volkov and Col Malenchenko donned their Orlan spacesuits and opened the Pirs hatch at 12:55 GMT. Volkov moved out shortly afterwards, while Malenchenko followed him just before 13:30.

They have been installing and retrieving several experimental packages on the Russian Zvezda and Poisk modules. They will also deploy devices called gap spanners on the hull of the station to facilitate the movement of crew members on future spacewalks.

Harsh environment

Among the experiments installed was Vinoslivost, which will test how various structural materials are affected by the harsh environment of space.

The Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos) crew members were also testing the Restavratsiya experiment, which could be used to glue special coatings to external surfaces of the station's Russian segment.

The veteran cosmonauts also retrieved the European Space Agency's (Esa) Expose-R experiment, which investigates how cosmic radiation, microgravity and temperature extremes affect a variety of microbes and organic molecules divulged to the vacuum of space. It was originally attached to the ISS seven years ago.

Media caption,
Flash drive of Russian messages thrown into space

Volkov also jettisoned a flash drive containing messages and video from last year's 70th anniversary of Victory Day, which marks the end of World War II on the Eastern Front. It was cast away in a retrograde direction so there was no chance it would later hit the station.

This is the sixth spacewalk for Malenchenko and the fourth for Volkov - whose father Aleksandr was also a cosmonaut.

Col Malenchenko is one of the most experienced spacefarers in the world; during his stay on the ISS, he should become only the third person to have spent more than 800 cumulative days in space. The current record holder is fellow cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, who has spent 879 days in orbit.

Risky business

Investigators have been studying data from the spacewalk on 15 January, which had to be stopped early due to the water in Tim Kopra's helmet. The event was another reminder that spacewalking remains the riskiest activity undertaken by astronauts and cosmonauts.

A similar, but much more serious, water leak nearly drowned Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano on a spacewalk on 9 July 2013. Col Kopra was wearing the same spacesuit used by Parmitano on that occasion; it was apparently given a thorough overhaul after the 2013 incident.

On 15 December, Yuri Malenchenko had to pilot the Soyuz spacecraft to a manual docking with the space station after the failure of the vehicle's Kurs radar (which determines the relative distance of the capsule and its target).

The Soyuz eventually docked safely, allowing the Russian, along with Col Kopra and Major Peake to join the crew of the ISS.

On Tuesday, British astronaut Tim Peake spoke to hundreds of children from across England and Wales in a live video chat - the first of its kind since he arrived on the orbiting outpost.

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