Spacewalking astronauts lose piece of shielding, floats away

"Expedition 50 Flight Engineer Peggy Whitson is set to go on her eighth spacewalk Thursday morning and surpass astronaut Suni Williams' record for the most spacewalks by a female astronaut", NASA scientists wrote on a blog post on Wednesday. Mission Control quickly came up with a plan for a patch, which worked.

NASA spokesman Dan Huot said the three remaining shields were installed to cover the most vulnerable spots, the report said.

Tonight (March 29) is metro Atlanta's final, best chance to see the International Space Station (ISS) before Georgia Tech graduate Shane Kimbrough returns to Earth on April 10. However, usually the items are small, like bolts.

The two astronauts will also install the second of the two upgraded computer relay boxes on the station's truss and install shields and covers on PMA-3 and the now-vacant common berthing mechanism port on Tranquility.

No other details were immediately available about how the shield, which weighs 18 pounds (8 kg) and measures 63.6-by-23.4- by-2.6 inches (162-by-59-by-7 cm), was lost.

Cameras on the station tracked the debris shield bag as it sailed into the distance.

Wilson and fellow astronaut Shane Kimbrough went outside to install upgraded computer and electrical components to connect the station to a second global docking port to be installed there.

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The relocated docking port will serve as one of two parking spots for commercial crew capsules under development by SpaceX and Boeing.

The spacewalkers hooked up vital heater cables to the docking port and removed a cover from the top. Flight controllers in Houston moved it to a new location Sunday.

Dr. Whitson broke a record set by Sunita Williams who previous held the record for most spacewalks by a female astronaut. Whitson is scheduled to complete a ninth walk on April 6.

SpaceX and Boeing are now designing crew vehicles that will begin flying people to the ISS as early as next year. The first flight could occur as early as next year. She's been in orbit since November.

The duo will be assisted by European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet, who carried out spacewalk last week with Kimbrough.

A Russian holds the all-time spacewalking record: Anatoly Solovyev with 16.

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