Purdue Astronaut Heading Back to Space

Flight engineer, Iowa native Peggy Whitson, is making the seventh spacewalk of her career this Friday morning outside of the International Space Station, that ties the record of NASA's Uni Williams for most spacewalks by a woman.

During their approximately six-and-a-half hour spacewalk, the pair installed new adapter plates and hooked up electrical connections for three of six new lithium-ion batteries installed on the station's truss, according to the USA space agency NASA.

The station is fitted with four huge sets of solar arrays that work to power the entire $1 billion dollar hunk of metal orbiting the Earth.

The batteries are losing their ability to hold a charge and all 48 will be replaced over the next few years with smaller, more efficient lithium-ion batteries.

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NASA Television provided live coverage of the spacewalk.

The project to swap out the station's decade-old nickel-hydrogen batteries began on New Year's Eve, 2016. On New Year's Eve, teams on the ground remotely controlled Canada's robotic arm and a robot called Dextre, moving numerous old nickel-hydrogen batteries out of the way and getting the new lithium-ion ones in the right spot for installation.

Robot arm operators in Houston will remove five NiH2 batteries and install the final three Li-ion batteries and adapter plates. The work will continue January 13 during the second spacewalk, which will be conducted by Kimbrough and Flight Engineer Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency). That same pallet will be used to store some of the old nickel-hydrogen batteries, too. Installing these plates, along with power and data cables, fell to Kimbrough and Whitson. "Therefore, we need to build larger tools that have specially designed handles and triggers that make it easier for them to work in their suits". The two spacewalks this month will replace a portion of the old batteries. The spacecraft and its cargo will burn up when the ship plunges back into the atmosphere.