Cosmonauts' spacewalk prepares space station for new laboratory

Fyodor Yurchikhin and Alexander Misurkin, two cosmonauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) carried out a six-hour spacewalk to help the orbiting facility prepare for the addition of a new laboratory module.

The pair first left the relative safety of the Zvezda module of the ISS for the cold vacuum of space at 9:32 a.m. EDT, while the craft sailed 250 miles above the Indian Ocean. Misurkin, 36 years old, stepped out of the Pirs airlock first, followed by the 54-year-old Yurchikhin.

Yurchikhin, who went by the call sign EV-1 and Misurkin, known as EV-2, installed power and electrical cables of the Multi-Purpose Laboratory module (MLM). This laboratory, also known as Nauka, is due for launch in December 2013.

Misurkin's spacesuit featured blue stripes, while the one worn by Yurchikin had red stripes, so the two could be easily identified on video camera. Helmets on both of the cosmonauts contained NASA-designed video cameras.

The new 42-foot long Russian-built laboratory will be launched aboard a Proton rocket and added to the space station later this year. But before Nauka arrives, docking equipment from the Pirs airlock which the pair left from on this recent walk will have to be removed, and the entire airlock compartment will be ejected from Zvezda to which it is currently attached, in the Autumn of 2013. Pirs is the Russian word for pier. The MLM will later provide an airlock for future visitors.

"There are quite a (few) tasks that need to be performed by the Russian EVA crew members before MLM arrives. Not only do they need to route power and data cables and reconfigure (rendezvous) equipment for the arrival of the MLM itself, it's part of a larger reconfiguration effort," Lawrence Thomas, NASA's lead spacewalk planner for the current ISS mission, said.

In addition to preparing the Zarya module to receive the upcoming laboratory, the pair of cosmonauts also collected several science experiments that were attached to the outside of the space station.

This newest expedition is the 169th spacewalk since 1998 which has been carried out to build the space station. It was the third such undertaking this year, with four more scheduled by the Russians and two by the U.S., by the end of 2013.

This was the sixth career spacewalk for Yurchikhin and the first for Misurkin. Their spacewalk was carried live on NASA TV.

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