Expedition 50 commanders Shane Kimbrough and flight engineer Peggy Whitson engaged in the first spacewalk to ensure an upgrade to the station’s power supply. Both astronauts completed the first of the two upgrade spacewalks. The spacewalk was scheduled to take some six hours, but both the veteran astronauts completed the job within 4 hours and spent some time preparing the next stage of the power upgrade. They also took some pictures.
The first stage of the spacewalk involved installation of three new adaptor plates which will serve as a base for the electrical connections of the six new Lithium Ion batteries which are going to replace the old Nickel Hydrogen batteries which have become inefficient and archaic.
The spacewalk also accomplished several allied tasks other than the power system upgrade. This included a photo survey of the Alpha Magnetic. The Li-ion batteries will store electricity generated by the massive solar arrays attached to the truss of the space station. Robots had already commenced the initial work to upgrade the power system.
The second spacewalk is to be done by Kimbrough and Flight Engineer Thomas Pesquet of ESA on January 13th. Thomas Pesquet is a French astronaut, and he will be on his first space walk. It was the third spacewalk by Kimbrough. It was the seventh spacewalk by Whitson who became the oldest woman to go to space conduct a space walk. She has now 46 hours and 18 minutes of spacewalk under her belt.
The power upgrade consisted of changing the old batteries with more modern ones. The Li-ion batteries are about half the size of a standard refrigerator. Nine older Ni-Hydrogen batteries will be shipped off with the next cargo craft which will depart from the station for disposal. The new cells were retrieved by a unique robotic arm known as Dextre or the Dextrous Manipulator from the HTV-6 cargo spacecraft which delivered supplies to the space station. The spacewalk was shown live across the world.