On Wednesday, astronauts from both the US’s space agency, NASA, and the European Space Agency will work together to upgrade the power supply on the International Space Station. The ISS, a joint effort between numerous space agencies, is a major scientific and cultural achievement for humanity.
Wednesday’s spacewalks will be performed by French astronaut Thomas Pesquet and NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough. The two will also have to go back out into space for another walk on Sunday. Each walk will take around six hours, and both will be live-streamed so space enthusiasts can see the upgrades in action.
Pesquet and Kimbrough will be braving the vacuum of space in order to install a new array of solar panels on the station. The panels that the statin is currently using for its power supply are getting old, nearing the end of their 15-year operational lifespan. The original components of the ISS were sent up in the 1990s, so it’s no surprise that many of the vital parts of the station need replacing from time to time. The new components will also grant the station a much-needed boost to its power collection, allowing it even more energy for scientific experiments.
Mark Vande and Megan McArthur, two NASA astronauts, will be supporting Kimbrough and Pesquet from within the station. Vande and McArthur will move the exterior astronauts around the station using a robotic arm. This is both much faster and much safer than having Kimbrough and Pesquet attempt to float their way around the station.
Both astronauts walking out into the vacuum today and Sunday are experienced with zero-gravity exposure to space. Pesquet has been on two spacewalks before, both of them with Kimbrough during Expedition 50 back in 2017. Pesquet will be the spacewalk leader for the mission, designated EV1. Kimbrough has been on six spacewalks in his career and will be designated EV2 for the mission.
While the installation of the new panels is routine, there are still risks associated with any time an astronaut is outside a shuttle or station. The slightest bump in the station could result in one of the men being thrown loose. In space, this is extremely dangerous. Objects moving through a vacuum don’t experience friction, so they just keep moving until they bump into something. This means that an astronaut slipping off of the station could result in them being lost in space.
This shouldn’t be a problem for either of the astronauts, though, since they’re equipped with jet backpacks called SAFER that can help them boost back to the station if they should slip away.