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Spacewalking astronauts installing new hand on station's robot arm

Astronauts perform first of three spacewalks Thursday

Commander Randy Bresnik and Mark Vande Hei will begin the first of three NASA spacewalks planned over the next two weeks on Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017.
Commander Randy Bresnik and Mark Vande Hei will begin the first of three NASA spacewalks planned over the next two weeks on Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017. (NASA)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla – Spacewalking astronauts are giving the International Space Station's big robot arm a new hand.

Commander Randy Bresnik and Mark Vande Hei (VAN-duh HI) floated out Thursday morning. It's the first of three NASA spacewalks planned over the next two weeks.

The latching mechanism on one end of the 58-foot robot arm malfunctioned in August. It needs to be replaced before an Orbital ATK supply ship launches in November.

This bundle of latches — more than three feet (a meter) long — is used to grab visiting spacecraft. It also attaches to grapple fixtures outside the space station. That way, the arm can move like an inchworm across the sprawling structure.

The Canadian-built arm has been in orbit for 16 years. Engineers attribute the recent trouble to wear and tear.