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Astronauts Hustle through First of Five Spacewalks to Replace Old Batteries at International Space Station

These new lithium-ion batteries are so powerful that only one is needed for every two old ones, which are original to the orbiting lab

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Astronauts, Spacewalks, Batteries
In this image made from video provided by NASA, NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Andrew Morgan work outside the International Space Station, Oct. 6 2019. VOA

Astronauts hustled through the first of five spacewalks to replace old batteries at the International Space Station on Sunday.

Christina Koch and Andrew Morgan removed three old batteries and installed two new ones delivered just a week ago, getting a jump on future work. These new lithium-ion batteries are so powerful that only one is needed for every two old ones, which are original to the orbiting lab.

“Awesome work today. We have made great progress,” Mission Control radioed. Koch replied: “It has been a wonderful day … we look forward to the rest of the series.”

Koch and Morgan will venture back out Friday for more battery work 250 miles (400 kilometers) up.

Astronauts, Spacewalks, Batteries
Christina Koch and Andrew Morgan removed three old batteries and installed two new ones delivered just a week ago, getting a jump on future work. Pixabay

The 400-pound (180-kilogram) batteries — half the size of a refrigerator — are part of the space station’s solar power network. Astronauts have been upgrading them since 2017 and are now more than halfway done. The old batteries are 10 years old; the new ones are expected to last until the end of the space station’s life, providing vital power on the night side of the Earth. These new batteries are so powerful that only one is needed for every two old ones.

These latest battery swaps are especially difficult given the extreme location on the station’s sprawling frame. It’s too far for the 58-foot (17-meter) robot arm to reach, forcing astronauts to lug the batteries back and forth themselves. That’s why so many spacewalks are needed this time to replace 12 old nickel-hydrogen batteries with six new lithium-ion versions.

Koch and Morgan took turns holding each battery as they made their way, inchworm style, along the structure. The batteries were so bulky that it blocked the spacewalkers’ views of one another, prompting constant updates. “I am right next to you,” Koch said at one point. “I have the battery,” Morgan replied. Then Koch had the battery, and so it went until the job was complete.

They ended up plugging in two new batteries, one more than anticipated, and removing an extra old one.

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The seven-hour spacewalk ended on another high note, at least for Koch. As she headed back inside, Mission Control gave her a National Football League update: “Good news, Eagles are ahead 14-0 in the second quarter.” She replied, “Go birds! … It might still be on when I get in.”

NASA plans to wrap up the five battery spacewalks this month, followed by a Russian spacewalk. Then five more U.S.-Italian spacewalks will be conducted in November and December to fix a key science instrument. NASA is calling it a “spacewalk bonanza.”

This unusual crush of spacewalks will feature the first all-female spacewalk — by Koch and Jessica Meir — later this month.

Koch is two-thirds of the way through a more than 300-day mission. It will be the longest single spaceflight by a woman. (VOA)

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Researchers Discover a Way to Help Astronauts Spending Prolonged Time in Space Come Back to Earth

Dizziness or fainting due to changes in blood flow can occur after lengthy bed rest, among people with certain health disorders

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Researchers, Astronauts, Space
Orthostatic hypotension is the technical term for a temporary drop in blood pressure when a person stands up after sitting or lying down because blood rushes to the feet. Pixabay

Nearly 50 years after man’s first steps on the Moon, researchers have discovered a way that may help astronauts spending prolonged time in space come back to Earth on more stable footing.

Orthostatic hypotension is the technical term for a temporary drop in blood pressure when a person stands up after sitting or lying down because blood rushes to the feet, away from the brain.

Dizziness or fainting due to changes in blood flow can occur after lengthy bed rest, among people with certain health disorders or in the case of astronauts, being in a low-gravity environment.

“One of the biggest problems since the inception of the manned space program has been that astronauts have fainted when they came down to Earth. The longer the time in a gravity-free environment space, the greater the risk,” said Benjamin Levine, Professor at UT Southwestern Medical Center in the US.

Researchers, Astronauts, Space
Nearly 50 years after man’s first steps on the Moon, researchers have discovered a way that may help astronauts spending prolonged time in space come back to Earth on more stable footing. Pixabay

“This problem has bedeviled the space program for a long time, but this condition is something ordinary people often experience as well,” he said in the paper published in the Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

The study included 12 astronauts (eight men and four women, aged 43-56) who spent about six months in space. All performed individualized endurance and resistance exercise training for up to two hours daily during space flight to prevent cardiovascular, bone and muscle deconditioning. They also received a saline infusion upon landing.

The astronauts’ blood pressure was recorded with every heartbeat over each 24-hour period before, during and after their time in space.

The researchers found that there was minimal impact on their blood pressure during all phases of measurement and none of the astronauts in the study experienced dizziness or fainting during routine activities 24 hours after landing.

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This is the first study to demonstrate that astronauts do not experience dizziness or fainting during routine activity after landing, as long as they participate in certain types of exercise training while in flight and receive IV fluids when they return to earth.

“What surprised me the most was how well the astronauts did after spending six months in space. I thought there would be frequent episodes of fainting when they returned to Earth, but they didn’t have any,” Levine said.

“It’s compelling evidence of the effectiveness of the countermeasures — the exercise regimen and fluid replenishment,” he added. (IANS)