Earlier today, two astronauts ventured outside of the International Space Station (ISS) to conduct a marathon spacewalk that lasted for nearly eight hours. The heroes of the day were Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Sergey Prokopyev of Roscosmos, both currently serving as flight engineers of Expedition 57.
Originally scheduled to last no more than six hours, today’s incursion into outer space ended up being 1.5 hours longer than initially planned as the two spacewalkers spent a total of 7 hours and 45 minutes working outside of the ISS, NASA announced in a blog post.
That’s one minute short of matching another marathon spacewalk undertaken by Prokopyev, the first one in his career, which occurred in mid-August. At the time, the Russian astronaut was part of the Expedition 56 crew and teamed up with another fellow cosmonaut, Roscosmos’ Oleg Artemyev, to install the ICARUS bird-tracking antenna and to deploy four tiny satellites into space, as previously reported by the Inquisitr.
With today’s outing, Prokopyev now has two spacewalks under his belt. Meanwhile, veteran astronaut Kononenko has just walked in space for the fourth time in his career. This was the 213th spacewalk in the history of the ISS and the very first since Kononenko came back on board the orbital outpost on December 3 for his fourth mission in space.
The two cosmonauts opened the hatch of the Pirs Docking Compartment, one of the space station’s Russian modules, at 10:59 a.m. EST. According to NASA, Kononenko was designated extravehicular crew member 1 (EV1) and donned a red-striped spacesuit. At the same time, Prokopyev headed outside the space station wearing a spacesuit with blue stripes, as the designated extravehicular crew member 2 (EV2). The duo re-entered the airlock and closed the Pirs hatch at 6:44 p.m. EST.
Their mission revolved around an investigation of the Russian Soyuz MS-9 capsule currently docked with the space station’s Rassvet module. This is the same spacecraft that sprung an air pressure leak in late August, as the Inquisitr reported at the time.
“The cosmonauts will take samples of any residue found on the hull and take digital images of the area before placing a new thermal blanket over it. The samples and images will provide additional information that will aid the investigation into the cause of the pressure leak,” NASA announced at the beginning of the month.
The duo used their spacewalking time to examine a section of the spacecraft’s external hull and locate the patched hole found on the side of the Soyuz MS-09.
To get to the Soyuz spacecraft, Kononenko took a ride on the ISS Strela boom — a nearly 46-foot-long cargo crane mounted on the Russian module — while Prokopyev operated the hardware.
This time-lapse video shows the out-of-this-world ride Oleg Kononenko took on the tip of the Strela boom operated by Sergey Prokopyev to the Soyuz crew vehicle worksite. #AskNASA | https://t.co/yuOTrYN8CV pic.twitter.com/UrGI3g8zDP— Intl. Space Station (@Space_Station) December 11, 2018
Live coverage aired by the space agency showed spectacular views from the ISS, with the two astronauts working some 260 miles above the planet while Earth was spinning in the background.
Two spacewalkers work 263 miles above Earth performing a high-flying vehicle inspection on a Soyuz crew ship that will return three Exp 57 crew members home next week. #AskNASA | https://t.co/yuOTrYN8CV pic.twitter.com/FLH2bNzXDf— Intl. Space Station (@Space_Station) December 11, 2018
Once the cosmonauts reached the Soyuz capsule, they cut into the insulation on the spacecraft’s orbital module to find and examine the “small black dot” — the area where the pressure leak was detected and fixed in August.
The "eureka" moment. Spacewalkers find the "small black dot" where controllers believe the area of the fixed pressure leak is located on the Soyuz crew vehicle. #AskNASA | https://t.co/yuOTrYN8CV pic.twitter.com/NFNOIPTkW1— Intl. Space Station (@Space_Station) December 11, 2018
Aside from inspecting the Russian crew pod, Kononenko and Prokopyev also retrieved science experiments from the Rassvet module before heading back inside the space station.
The Soyuz MS-9 capsule is slated to return to Earth on December 19. The spacecraft will bring Prokopyev back home along with two other members of Expedition 57 — namely ISS commander Alexander Gerst of the European Space Agency and NASA astronaut Serena Aunon-Chancellor — six-and-half months after it first flew them to the space station on June 8.
“Today’s inspection work took place on the Soyuz Orbital module where the pressure leak occurred. The crew returns to Earth in the Descent Module. The Orbital and Service modules separate after undocking and burn up in Earth’s atmosphere,” the ISS Twitter account posted a few hours ago.