Two Russian cosmonauts conducted a spacewalk on Thursday intended to activate a new segment on the International Space Station so it can dock Russian spacecraft.
The effort was expected to last nearly six hours, and Americans Jeff Williams and Timothy J. Creamer and Soichi Noguchi of Japan were supporting the mission from inside the space station.
Cosmonauts Maxim Suraev and Oleg Kotov ventured into open space at 1:05 p.m. Moscow time (1005 GMT, 5:05 a.m. EST) to activate the new module and make it ready for docking, said Mission Control spokesman Valery Lyndin.
They will work on the Russian Poisk module to link it to the station’s communications and power systems, and prepare it for future dockings with the Russian spacecraft, Lyndin said. The research module was launched in November.
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Each year, the crew gets to choose when to hold their official holiday feast, during which they gather to share special delicacies beyond the scope of their normal daily rations.
Christmas comes twice to the astronauts aboard the International Space Station this year as the multi-nation crew celebrates the traditional Dec. 25 holiday as well as Russian Orthodox Christmas on Jan. 7.
Current station commander Jeff Williams of NASA is leading a crew of five, including Russian cosmonauts Maxim Suraev and Oleg Kotov, Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi, and American spaceflyer Timothy “T.J.” Creamer.
Kotov, Noguchi and Creamer arrived just recently, docking at the station aboard the Russian Soyuz TMA-17 spacecraft on Tuesday.
“We’re privileged this time of year to be in this unique place looking back at our planet,” Williams said in a video beamed down from the orbiting outpost. “It’s a time for us to be thinking about our family and friends… It’s also a time to look forward to the future year, finishing the assembly of the International Space Station.”
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How close are we to long-term human habitation beyond low-Earth orbit? Colonies on the moon or Mars are still many years off, but the good news is there are several serious efforts underway to make it happen.
The ISS. The closest thing we currently have to a space colony is the International Space Station. While it can be considered a success in terms of international cooperation and scientific research, the ISS far from self-sufficient. Sweat and urine can be recycled into fresh water and filters and scrubbers keep the air breathable, but without regular resupply missions, the station’s occupants wouldn’t last long. Still, the future looks bright up there – NASA has several ISS missions scheduled for 2010, expanding the station and adding new components (as well as spare parts).
Lunar Colonization. The best prospect for a human colony on the moon seems to be NASA’s Constellation project. The Altair Lunar lander will be able to carry a crew of four astronauts to the moon and support them there for a seven-day mission. Alternately, it can descend robotically to the moon carrying critical infrastructure for a longer-term lunar outpost. When completed, that outpost will support a crew of four for up to 180 days. NASA has a slick interactive website that explains Constellation.