First spacewalk of 2023 will prepare space station for new solar array

2 astronauts venturing outside International Space Station for 6-hour spacewalk

This photo provided by NASA, astronauts NASA's Nicole Mann and Japan's Koichi Wakata venture out on a spacewalk at the International Space Station on Friday, Jan. 20, 2023. Their job was to install support struts for small solar panels launching this summer, part of a continuing effort by NASA to expand the space station's power grid. (NASA via AP) (Uncredited)

ORLANDO, Fla. – A years-long project to replace the aging power system aboard the International Space Station continues Friday with the installation of new electrical hardware.

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Koichi Wakata and NASA astronaut Nicole Mann are venturing outside the orbiting lab for their first spacewalk together. The duo is tasked with the installation of two mounting platforms on the station’s starboard side truss.

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The platforms will allow the crew to secure a fifth Roll-Out Solar Array (iROSA) during a future spacewalk. The iROSAs soak up the sun’s energy and will be positioned in front of six of the eight current solar panel wings.

The 6.5-hour spacewalk began at 8:15 a.m.

Mann, a Marine colonel and test pilot, is also the first Native American woman in space. She is a member of the Wailacki of the Round Valley Indian Tribes in Northern California. She made her first trip to space last fall with SpaceX.

Friday was the first spacewalk for Mann and Wakata.

Friday’s planned spacewalk comes less than one month after space debris from a Russian rocket prompted NASA officials to stop spacewalk preparations for astronauts Frank Rubio and Josh Cassada.

The crew was not in danger and the spacewalk was rescheduled the next day, NASA noted in a blog post.

FILE - In this handout photo released by Roscosmos State Space Corporation, a view of the International Space Station taken on March 30, 2022 by crew of Russian Soyuz MS-19 space ship after undocking from the Station. Russia's space corporation Roscosmos said Monday Dec. 19, 2022 that a coolant leak from a Russian space capsule attached to the International Space Station doesn't require evacuation of its crew, but held the door open for launching a replacement capsule if needed. (Roscosmos State Space Corporation via AP, File) (Roscosmos State Space Corporation)

The first pair of solar arrays were designed with a service life of 15 years, yet, the arrays have provided electrical power to the station for more than 20 years. The current arrays are now showing signs of degradation, NASA says.

Once all six iROSA are installed, the arrays will provide a 20% to 30% increase in power for space station research and operations.

About the Author:

Katrina Scales joined News 6 as a TV producer in June 2021.