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Iconic free-flying astronaut passes away at 80

Retired astronaut Bruce McCandless II, the first astronaut to fly untethered from his spacecraft, has died at the age of 80. NASA said McCandless passed away on Thursday in California, but gave no cause of death. The former naval aviator flew in space twice. During a spacewalk in 1984, McCandless tested a hand-controlled maneuvering unit that took him more than 300 feet away from the shuttle Challenger. He jokingly referred to Neil Armstrong’s moonwalk: “That may have been one small step for Neil, but it’s a heck of a big leap for me.”

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NASA spacewalkers install new HD camera

NASA astronauts finished up this month’s trio of spacewalks with a nearly seven-hour-long outing today — highlighted by the installation of a new HD camera on the International Space Station’s exterior, plus the replacement of a faulty camera-light assembly on the end of the station’s robotic arm.

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Spacewalkers replace broken hand on robot arm

A pair of NASA spacewalkers replaced a faulty gripper on the end of the International Space Station’s Canadian-built robotic arm today during an outing that lasted nearly seven hours.

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NASA spacewalkers triumph over fussy bolt

NASA astronaut Jack Fischer waves to the camera during a repair spacewalk. (NASA TV)

NASA spacewalkers Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer replaced a faulty computer relay box on the International Space Station today, but not before dealing with a problem all too familiar to home fixer-uppers.

The box, about the size of a microwave oven, is known as a multiplexer-demultiplexer or MDM. It’s one of two MDMs that regulate the operation of the station’s radiators, solar arrays and cooling loops. The component failed on May 20, but because each box can handle all essential functions, operations on the station weren’t affected.

NASA decided to go ahead with a rapid-response spacewalk today to preserve the system’s redundancy, and Whitson made quick work of uninstalling the failed equipment. However, when it came time to install the replacement, she found she couldn’t secure the primary bolt that was supposed to hold it in place.

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200th spacewalk is short but does the job

A small water leak cropped up in one of the hoses designed to keep NASA astronaut Jack Fischer’s spacesuit cool while he waited to begin today’s 200th spacewalk on the International Space Station. That had a domino effect on the preparations, drawing down battery power and forcing NASA to trim back the time allotted to the outing from six and a half hours to a little more than four hours. The schedule still gave Fischer and NASA’s Peggy Whitson enough time to accomplish the spacewalk’s primary task.

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NASA’s Peggy Whitson sets spacewalk record

Spacewalkers at work
NASA spacewalkers Peggy Whitson and Shane Kimbrough work on the International Space Station. The astronauts had to improvise a fix to make up for a lost piece of cloth shielding. (NASA TV)

NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson set a new record for female spacewalkers at the International Space Station today, during an outing that required a little improvisation to make up for a wayward hatch cover.

One of the aim of today’s spacewalk was to hook up connections at the new location for the station’s Pressurized Mating Adapter-3, or PMA-3, which will serve as a docking point for future commercial space taxis. The spacewalk followed up on the PMA-3’s transfer from the station’s Tranquility module to the Harmony module, accomplished with the station’s robotic arm.

Whitson and her NASA crewmate, Shane Kimbrough, were also supposed to install four protective shields over the port where the PMA-3 gateway used to be attached. Things got complicated, however, when one of the shields was inadvertently lost and drifted away from the station.

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Leaky helmet forces early end to spacewalk

Image: Tim Kopra on spacewalk
NASA’s Tim Kopra works outside the International Space Station. Kopra and British crewmate Tim Peake had to end their spacewalk early due to water in Kopra’s helmet. (Credit: NASA TV)

Friday’s spacewalk at the International Space Station was called off early when NASA astronaut Tim Kopra reported a small bubble of water inside his spacesuit helmet.

NASA commentator Rob Navias said the crew “was never in any danger at all.” Kopra and his fellow spacewalker, Britain’s Tim Peake, got back inside the station safely. Nevertheless, the incident echoed a scary episode in 2013 when Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano nearly drowned inside his spacesuit. That forced a months-long investigation as well as the addition of absorbent pads and snorkels inside the U.S.-made suits.

The earlier water leak was traced to contamination that blocked up a water separator in the suit’s air-circulation system. A pool of water crept up into the helmet in zero-G and began to cover Parmitano’s face.

Things never got that far in Friday’s incident. As soon as Kopra reported moisture in the helmet, NASA went into a procedure to stop work, bring the astronauts back inside and get their suits off.

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