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Station crew completes 7th and final spacewalk of 2014

Irene Klotz, Spaceflight Correspondent
Oct 23, 2014, 15:58 UTC, Updated Oct 23, 2014, 21:01 UTC

Sen—International Space Station commander Maxim Suraev and flight engineer Alexander Samokutyaev on Tuesday breezed through a planned six-hour spacewalk in almost half that time, completing the seventh and final outing of the year.

The cosmonauts, both making their second spacewalks, discarded an obsolete Earth science experiment as well as two antennas that a Russian module had used to navigate itself to its docking port. The antennas removal clears the path for future spacewalks.

Suraev and Samokutyaev also photographed and videorecorded the outside of the Russian part of the station for an engineering analysis.

The spacewalk, which lasted three hours and 38 minutes, was the third in as many weeks. NASA astronauts ventured outside on Oct. 7 and Oct. 15 to put a failed ammonia pump module into storage; replace a voltage regulator for the station’s solar power system and to begin preparations for a major reconfiguration of station modules.

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Space station flight engineer Alexander Samokutyaev at work during his spacewalk. Image credit: Alexander Gerst/ESA

Next year, NASA plans up to 10 spacewalks to revamp the station for dockings by commercial space taxis, which are currently under development. The U.S. space agency hopes to begin flying crews aboard Boeing CST-100 and Space Exploration Technologies Dragon capsules in 2017.

To accommodate the capsules, NASA plans to install two adapters on the station’s Harmony module. Before then, a storage module currently located on the Unity connecting node will be shifted to the Tranquility module, clearing the way for cargo ships to berth at Unity.

Most of the relocations will be done remotely with the station’s robotic crane, but astronauts will need to make spacewalks to route power and communications cables and to handle other tasks.

“We're really going to start this transformation of the space station," Kenny Todd, space station integration and operations, told reporters at a press conference earlier this month.

Except for emergency repairs, such as replacing the failed ammonia pump, U.S. spacewalks had been suspended until October due to potential problems with the shuttle-era spacesuits. In July 2013, Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano nearly drowned when his NASA spacesuit leaked, filling his helmet with water.

Engineers traced the leak to silica particles building up in the suit's fan pump separator, which is located in the spacesuit’s backpack. The silica came from filters in the spacesuit’s water-cooling system. 

NASA initially planned to resume routine spacewalks in August, but delayed the outings until October so that new batteries for the spacesuits could be flown to the station. Ground tests revealed potential problems with fuses inside the old batteries.