Working In Space

When an astronaut (cosmonaut or taikonaut) leaves their spacecraft or space station, it is technically called an extravehicular activity (EVA) which is commonly referred to as a spacewalk! Spacewalks are performed for several reasons. The major ones are to permit working outside in space and performing scientific experiments. Cosmonaut Alexey Leonov performed the first spacewalk in March 1965.


What Is Spacewalking?!

When a space traveller puts on a protective suit and leaves the safety of their spacecraft, and floats out into the vacuum of space, they are performing an EVA or spacewalk (even though they’re really ‘space floating’ rather than walking...). If the spacewalk occurs on the Moon, this is called a moonwalk!

Why Do Astronauts Go For Spacewalks?

There are several reasons why astronauts would go on a spacewalk;

  • To set up science experiments outside in space
  • To collect those experiments after the tests are over
  • The astronaut may be required to attach new equipment to the spacecraft (or space station)
  • Repairs maybe required to a satellite, spacecraft or the outside of a space station

How Does Spacewalking Work?

An astronaut takes several hours to prepare for a spacewalk while still in the spacecraft. They will put on their bulky pressure suits, then test the connections and communications. The astronaut’s life support systems are either supplied from the spacecraft via an umbilical cable or a life support pack on their back.

Once checks are complete, the module the astronaut is in will then be depressurised, they will open the hatch and float outside into space. They are usually tethered to the spacecraft, for safety, so as not to float away. The astronaut can then perform their tasks for which the spacewalk planned.

If the astronaut has a Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU) on them, which provides independent propulsion control, they can move around in space like rocket man!

How Do Astronauts Train For Spacewalks On Earth?

There are three main ways that astronauts train for spacewalks while on Earth;

  • Firstly, they study spacewalking videos and techniques learnt over the years by previous astronauts.
  • Secondly, they will train by using virtual reality helmets and gloves, which provides a very realistic simulation for the look and feel of a spacewalk.
  • Finally, the astronauts will suit up in an actual spacesuit and rehearse in NASA’s giant swimming pool called the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, or NBL (which is 10 times the size of an Olympic sized swimming pool!). Floating and working in the pool is a lot like working in space.

Spacewalks Milestones And Records!

  • The first-ever spacewalk was performed by cosmonaut Alexey Leonov on March 18th, 1965.
  • The first American to perform a spacewalk was Edward White from Gemini 4 on June 3rd, 1965.
  • There were 14 moonwalks performed on the surface on the Moon during the Apollo program for a total of over 160 hours!
  • There have been 3 Deep Space EVAs conducted by Apollo astronauts while between the Moon and Earth!
  • The first untethered spacewalk using the MMU was made by NASA astronaut Bruce McCandless II in 1984, during a Challenger shuttle mission. An iconic image of Bruce floating in space resulted from this EVA.
  • The first three-person EVA was performed on May 13, 1992, to hand-capture and repair a non-functional satellite.
  • The Russian cosmonaut Anatoly Solovyev holds both the record for most spacewalks and for the greatest time spacewalking (16 EVAs; 82 hr and 22 min).
  • Peggy Whitson holds the record for most EVAs and time spent spacewalking for a woman (10 EVAs, 60 hr and 21 min).
  • The longest spacewalk so far, was 8 hours and 56 minutes, performed by Susan Helms and James S. Voss on March 11th, 2001.
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