MIAMI: French astronaut Thomas Pesquet floated into space on his first-ever spacewalk Friday, on a mission to help upgrade the power system outside the International Space Station with new, refrigerator-sized lithium-ion batteries.
Wearing a white spacesuit with the French flag emblazoned on one shoulder, Pesquet and American astronaut Shane Kimbrough switched on their spacesuits’ internal battery power to mark the official start of the spacewalk at 6:22 am (1122 GMT), more than a half hour earlier than scheduled.
“This is Pesquet’s first foray into the vacuum of space,” a NASA commentator said as a live broadcast from the US space agency showed Pesquet’s booted feet dangling out of the airlock as he made his way outside.
The pair made speedy progress. About three hours into the six-and-a-half hour spacewalk, they finished their main goal to connect adapter plates for three modern lithium-ion batteries.
“I bet you they are feeling really good,” said US astronaut and NASA commentator Tom Marshburn as the pair began working on so-called “get-ahead” maintenance tasks.
They “probably have plenty of reserve to knock out these get-ahead tasks.”
The new batteries weigh about 428 pounds (194 kilograms) each, and replace older, but far lighter, nickel hydrogen batteries.
The batteries’ role is to store power for the orbiting lab as it flies in Earth shadow.
The space station travels at a speed of more than 17,000 miles (27,350 kilometers) per hour, and circles the Earth about every 90 minutes, periodically moving through light and darkness.
After a spacewalk earlier this month by Kimbrough and veteran US astronaut Peggy Whitson, a total of six lithium-ion batteries are now installed.
Eventually, all 48 of the old batteries on board will be replaced with new ones.