New Record in Woman's Spacewalking Set by Peggy Whitson

While wrapping up work on a docking port on the International Space Station on Thursday, NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson set two new spacewalk records.

Peggy Whitson and Shane Kimbrough (KIM-broh) lost a vital cloth shield for the International Space Station midway through their spacewalk Thursday.

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

It was her eighth spacewalk - the most of any female astronaut. They were in the process of using four large cloth panels to cover the access point where the docking port had been when one of the fabric shields suddenly drifted away and floated off into space. The shields were required to cover the port where the PMA-3 was removed earlier in the week and robotically installed on the Harmony module. At around 11:00PM AEDT, Whitson and ISS commander Shane Kimbrough began their preparations, while the rest of the crew just sort of chilled.

The 57-year-old Whitson has been in orbit since November.

According to NASA spokesman Dan Huot, the three remaining shields are being used to cover the craft's most vulnerable spots, so despite being an annoying setback, the situation isn't anywhere near as dire as one might assume, and won't put the ISS at any risk of danger.

While not a flawless fit, it should protect the station from small asteroid and debris strikes. Whitson and Pesquet will leave the airlock for the last spacewalk in the series on April 6.

Before concluding their spacewalk, Kimbrough and Whitson also installed what has been nicknamed a "cummerbund" around the base of the PMA-3 adapter.

The incident briefly raised concern at mission control in Houston that the shield might come back and hit the orbiting laboratory.

The previous female record holder for spacewalks, Sunita "Suni" L. Williams, logged 50 hours and 40 minutes in spacewalking time. NASA is hoping she can return to Earth then on an extra seat in the Russian Soyuz spacecraft. After completing her 8th spacewalk, she annihilated that record having a total number of spacewalking hours of 53 and 22 minutes. The list is topped by cosmonaut Anatoly Solovyev with 68 hours and former astronaut Mike Lopez-Alegria with 67.

  • Carolyn Briggs