Space blanket floats away during historic spacewalk

ISS astronauts Shane Kimbrough Peggy Whitson to conduct second spacewalk on Thursday

NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Peggy Whitson will perform a spacewalk Thursday morning outside the International Space Station. This was Whitson's eighth spacewalk.

During the first spacewalk, the Pressurised Mating Adapter-3 (PMA-3) was prepared for installation of the second International Docking Adapter, which serves as a home to commercial crew vehicle dockings. The astronaut will serve as commander for Expedition 51 to the International Space Station next month, making her not only the first female astronaut to command a mission to the station but also the first to do so twice. The astronauts filled the gap using the cover that they had just removed from the relocated docking port.

Spacewalkers have lost objects before but usually the items are small, like bolts. The loss posed no immediate danger to the astronauts and Kimbrough and Whitson went on to successfully install the remaining shields on the common berthing mechanism port.

Mission Control instructed the astronauts to retrieve the cloth cover just removed from the docking port, and try to fashion it over the gaping hole left by the lost shield. They also installed an upgraded computer relay box and protective shielding before calling it a day.

The third spacewalk, by Whitson and European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet, now is planned for April 6. She holds the record for most number of spacewalks by a woman as well as most spacewalk time for a woman.

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Last week, during during a spacewalk by Kimbrough and European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet, cables connecting a docking port extension on the outboard port of the Tranquility module were disconnected. In 2008, an astronaut lost her entire tool kit during a spacewalk. Mission Control said there was no risk of it hitting the space station.

For Whitson, 57, the seven-hour, four-minute spacewalk was the eighth of her career, surpassing the record of seven previously held by USA astronaut Sunita Williams.

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

NASA, meanwhile, has indefinitely delayed a spacewalk that had been scheduled for next week.

With all three spacewalks complete and Cygnus safely attached, Kimbrough, Soyuz MS-02 commander Sergey Ryzhikov and flight engineer Andrey Borisenko plan to undock and return to Earth April 10, landing on the steppe of Kazakhstan around 7:20 a.m. (5:20 p.m. local time).