Spacewalking Astronauts Add New Pumps to Cosmic Detector

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Spacewalking astronauts connected new pumps to a cosmic ray detector exterior the International Space Station on Monday in a bid to prolong its scientific life.

It was the third spacewalk in practically three weeks for Italy’s Luca Parmitano and NASA’s Andrew Morgan. And it marked the fruits of years of labor to restore the $2 billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer.

The spectrometer has been up there looking for antimatter and darkish matter for eight years, longer than anticipated. Without 4 new pumps for cooling, the machine could be crippled and, in the end, ineffective.

NASA compares this sequence of 4 spacewalks — essentially the most advanced because the Hubble Space Telescope missions — to coronary heart bypass surgical procedure as a result of they’re designed to bypass the previous, degraded pumps.

The $2 billion spectrometer was by no means meant for hands-on repairs like this and was designed to final simply three years. Once the brand new pumps are absolutely put in, the spectrometer ought to final all the lifetime of the house station. That’s one other 5 to 10 years.

Given the excessive stakes, Mission Control urged the spacewalkers to “take good care” of the pumps. Parmitano clutched the 350-pound (159-kilogram) field of pumps, a cumbersome 3.5 ft (107 centimeters) by 2.5 ft (82 centimeters), with each fingers as he headed towards the spectrometer.

Parmitano rapidly bolted the bundle to the spectrometer, then attached energy and information cables. He crossed his gloved fingers as finest he might — and his booted toes, too, he famous — as flight controllers switched on energy to the instrument. The instrument got here alive.

“Good news. We show that we can tear things apart and build them back up,” stated Morgan.

Mission Control cautioned, “We’ve got a little way to go yet, but we agree.”

The spacewalkers’ hardest job was nonetheless forward: splicing eight chrome steel tubes that had been lower on the Nov. 22 spacewalk, into the brand new pumps. “One down, seven to go,” Mission Control radioed as Parmitano completed splicing the primary cooling line.

A fourth spacewalk will likely be wanted to verify these reconfigured cooling strains for leaks and add thermal blankets to the spectrometer. With two provide ships being readied for launch this week to the house station — from Cape Canaveral and Kazakhstan — it is unsure when the ultimate spacewalk will happen.

The spectrometer flew up on house shuttle Endeavour’s final mission in 2011. It’s since studied greater than 148 billion charged cosmic rays.

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