National / Science & Health

U.S. and Japanese astronauts conduct spacewalk to fix robot arm on ISS


Two astronauts from Japan and the United States went on a spacewalk Friday to repair the International Space Station’s robotic arm and put equipment in storage.

The spacewalk was the first for Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Norishige Kanai and the fourth for his U.S. counterpart Mark Vande Hei.

The outing began at 7 a.m. when the duo switched their spacesuits to battery power before venturing into the vacuum of space. The excursion was expected to last 6½ hours.

Kanai, 41, is a doctor and diver who goes by the nickname “Neemo.” The Tokyo-born lieutenant from the Maritime Self-Defense Force became an astronaut in 2009. He is the fourth Japanese to walk in space.

He also spent 13 days in the Aquarius, an underwater lab off Florida, in 2015 as part of NASA’s Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) crew.

The goal of the spacewalk is to move components related to the orbiting outpost’s Canadian-built robot arm, known as Canadarm2, an aging but crucial piece of equipment that has undergone a series of repairs in recent months. The arm is used to move astronauts and heavy equipment outside the research laboratory.

The astronauts must move a spare gadget called the Latching End Effector from a storage spot outside the ISS into the Quest air lock so it can be returned to Earth on a future cargo mission for refurbishment and eventual relaunch.

“This LEE was replaced during an Expedition 53 spacewalk in October 2017,” NASA said in a statement.

“They also will move an aging, but functional, LEE that was detached from the arm during a January 23 spacewalk and move it from its temporary storage outside the airlock to a long-term storage location.”

That LEE will be kept at the station as a spare.

Friday’s spacewalk is the 208th in support of space station assembly and maintenance, and the third this year.