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Spacewalking astronauts complete space station battery and cable work

The six-hour operation was plagued by sound problems.

Astronauts Anne McClainand David Saint-Jacques (NASA/Canadian Space Agency/The Canadian Press via AP)
Astronauts Anne McClainand David Saint-Jacques (NASA/Canadian Space Agency/The Canadian Press via AP)

Spacewalking astronauts have completed battery and cable work outside the International Space Station despite communication trouble that sometimes made it hard for them to hear.

During the spacewalk, Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques reported that US colleague Anne McClain’s voice was faint at times. The problem worsened as their six and a half-hour excursion drew to a close.

“We know that it’s a lot of hard work and a lot of big sighs of relief as soon as this hatch gets closed,” Ms McClain said once the pair were inside the air lock.

Within moments, the spacewalkers could barely hear their colleagues over the radio loop. They had to shout and repeat words at times, as did the astronauts on the other side of the hatch.

Ms McClain also reported having a thin layer of moisture inside her helmet. The change to her visor was noticeable in the last 15 minutes of the spacewalk, she noted.

Nasa has been wary about moisture inside helmets since an Italian astronaut almost drowned during a spacewalk nearly six years ago because of a water leak in his suit.

Ms McClain insisted she was not wet, and that the moisture was minimal. A crewmate later noted perspiration.

Earlier, the two spacewalkers hustled through their part in battery swaps that began last month. It was the third spacewalk in two and a half weeks for the space station crew.

The cable routing took more time, providing a back-up power circuit for the station’s Canadian-made robot arm and expanding wireless communications. At one point, the spacewalkers had to use a crowbar to loosen a stuck fastener and get behind a protective panel.

The battery work involved reinstalling two old units. One of six new lithium-ion batteries did not work, so Ms McClain had to remove an adapter plate she put in.

Last week, flight controllers used the space station’s robot arm to remove the failed battery along with an associated charging device.

Working remotely, the controllers also installed a spare charging device and one of the old batteries made of nickel hydrogen. The second outdated battery will go in — robotically — later this week.

Nasa said it will send up another new battery, although it is uncertain when. Until then, this combination of old and new batteries is expected to work fine, according to managers.

Because of trouble with a trunnion pin, Mr Saint-Jacques could not complete prep work for a future payload platform.

Ms McClain has now logged two spacewalks and Mr Saint-Jacques has one. Their six-month mission began in December.

The next spacewalk will be next month by the two Russians on board. Two other Americans complete the six-person crew.

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