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Cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov in an Expedition 30 spacewalk in 2012.NASA
Last Friday's spacewalk saw two Russian cosmonauts replace an antenna, but it accidentally became a record-setting spacewalk for the two International Space Station researchers.
Commander Alexander Misurkin and Anton Shkaplerov placed a critical antenna in the wrong spot outside the ISS. NASA's Mission Control determined the antenna was fine, but Russia's team said it needed to be addressed. That particular antenna was used for ISS communications with the Russian Mission Control.
According to NASA's blog, "The primary objectives during the spacewalk will be to remove and jettison an electronics box for a high-gain communications antenna on the Zvezda service module and install an upgraded electronics box to communication between Russian flight controllers and the Russian modules of the orbital outpost. The cosmonauts also will take detailed photos of the exterior of the Russian modules and retrieve experiments housed on Zvezda’s hull."
And so, Misurkin and Shkaplerov encountered an 8 hour and 13-minute spacewalk. That's the longest spacewalk ever conducted by a Russian cosmonaut, surpassing the previous record by 6 minutes. It also marks the fifth-longest spacewalk in the ISS's 20-year history. However, the estimated time for the spacewalk was only supposed to be 6 and a half hours.
So what happened?
The antenna initially got caught up on the Russian side of the ISS. The cosmonauts noticed it couldn't properly extend after being folded the night before. The 4-foot boom simply wouldn't budge. Both cosmonauts pushed the antenna with the help of flight controllers assisting remotely.
Finally, the Russian mission control team said in Russian, "It's moving. It's in place."
That's when NASA Mission Control had to correct the mistake. The Houston-based team actually saw that the antenna moved 180 degrees farther than it should've been moved.
The response from the cosmonauts was an exasperated "Are you kidding us?" when they realized they'd beaten the record. And even with that extensive amount of time, NASA and Russian Mission Control still do not know for sure whether the antenna was operating. The duo asked, "have we just wasted our time?" And neither mission control could give them an immediate answer.
During the antenna movement issues, the cosmonauts still had to remove the old electronics from the antenna. One of those items was an original part which had launched in 2000. Misurkin pushed everything away from the space station. According to NASA, the items will float harmlessly down and disintegrate upon meeting Earth's atmosphere. The 60-pound box was also thrown in a direction in a path that won't intersect with the space station, NASA officials noted.
Spacewalker Alexander Misurkin jettisoned, or tossed, an old electronics box removed from the station into space. It will eventually re-enter Earth's atmosphere and burn up. https://t.co/yuOTrZ4Jutpic.twitter.com/pWFkcKQeOa— Intl. Space Station (@Space_Station) February 2, 2018
NASA typically wants its astronauts to secure the lose items to the outside of the craft until they can be transferred elsewhere. At the very least, items that are unused make it inside. However, Mission Control noted that the act was fine and they did not know exactly when the old electronics would burn up in Earth's atmosphere.
Currently, the ISS houses two Russian cosmonauts, three Americans, and one Japanese space researcher.