Debris shield floats away during spacewalk

After today, Whitson will have accumulated 59 hours in spacewalking, but hey, that could grow - she won't be back on Earth until some time in spring.

Huot said it was not immediately clear who let the shield go or how it got away; it's supposed to be tethered to the station or spacewalker at all times.

The spacewalk itself hasn't exactly been a cakewalk.

Whitson and her spacewalking partner, station commander Shane Kimbrough, ventured out to complete prep work on a docking port. Kimbrough disconnected the port during a spacewalk last Friday and then flight controllers in Houston moved it to a new location Sunday.

Next week, she and Pesquet, 39, will perform another spacewalk to continue the space station upgrades and maintenance needed for future spaceships.

Now on her third long-duration spaceflight, Whitson is the oldest woman to ever fly in space.

Kimbrough and Whitson will be reconnecting cables and electrical connections on Pressurized Mating Adapter-3 (PMA-3) at its new home on top of the Harmony module. A docking mechanism will be attached to the outboard end of the tunnel late this year or early next. According to NASA, the station hurtles through orbit at 17,150 miles an hour - seeing a sun rise and set about every 90 minutes.

The shielding protects against micrometeorite debris.

The duo were also tasked with installing four thermal protection shields on the Tranquility module of the International Space Station.

She arrived at the space station in November, after previously serving on two six-month missions at the orbiting outpost in 2002 and 2008. The previous record was held by NASA astronaut Sunita Williams at 50 hours and 40 minutes.

It was a disappointing turn of events in a record-setting spacewalk for Whitson, the world's oldest and most experienced spacewoman. She has spent more than 500 days off the planet.

In the meantime, Kimbrough, Soyuz MS-02 commander Sergey Ryzhikov and flight engineer Andrey Borisenko are scheduled to return to Earth on April 10, landing on the steppe of Kazakhstan to close out a 173-day mission. NASA is hoping to take advantage of an extra seat in the Russian Soyuz spacecraft that's due to launch next month and return in September.

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  • Carolyn Briggs