CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (NASA) – NASA is making its first all-female spacewalk this week due to a failure of the International Space Station's power system.
Astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir will now be on their way Thursday or Friday, rather than next Monday, to solve the problem. It will be the first spacewalk of only women in more than half a century.
A critical battery charger failed on the weekend and caused the change, NASA officials said Monday. The women will replace the defective component instead of installing new batteries, which was their original task.
Last week, astronauts completed the first two of five spacewalks to replace old batteries that make up the station's solar energy grid. The remaining spacewalks originally scheduled for this week and next week have been delayed by at least a few weeks, allowing engineers to determine why the battery charger has failed. This is the second such mistake this year.
The devices regulate the amount of charge that flows to and from each battery. One did not kick on Friday night and prevented one of the three newly installed lithium-ion batteries from working. The charger is 19 years old; the one who failed in the spring was almost that old. There are only three spare parts available.
"At this point, it's very worrying if you do not know what's going on," said Kenny Todd, a space station manager. "We are still scratching our heads when we look at the data, hopefully we can sort this out in a relatively short time."
Despite the light blackout, the orbiting laboratory and its six inmates are safe, according to NASA. and scientific operations are not affected. The current situation is "manageable, but not something we want to live long term," Todd told reporters.
NASA originally planned a purely female spacewalk last spring, but had to cancel it because of a failure, lack of readily available mid-size suits. Koch helped in the summer by putting together an additional mid-size suit.
"Very good that we have 4 experienced space runners on board who take on this difficult task, they are the A-Team!" tweeted the astronaut Anne McClain, who would have gone on a spacewalk with Koch in March, had not the question of suit size been answered.
While all four – two men and two women – are equally trained in the repair job, Koch and Meir are the right ones to face the future workload on the spacewalk, officials said.
Since the first spacewalk in 1965, there have been 227 spacewalkers, of which only 14 were women. Meir will make her first spacewalk and become number 15. Except for one of these women she is American.
The upcoming spacewalk will be "absolutely … an exciting event," said Megan McArthur, deputy director of the NASA Astronaut Corps. "The fact that there will only be two women reflects the fact that we have so many capable, qualified women in the office."