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Astronauts Install New, Stronger Batteries for Station’s Solar Power Grid

The space station's outdated nickel-hydrogen batteries are being replaced with lithium-ion batteries, a lengthy process spanning years

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astronauts, batteries
Astronauts Nick Hague and Christina Koch float outside the International Space Station, March 29, 2019, a week after the first spacewalk to install new and stronger batteries for the station’s solar power grid. VOA

Spacewalking astronauts hustled through battery hookups outside the International Space Station on Friday in a major upgrade of the solar power grid.

NASA’s Christina Koch and Nick Hague successfully installed a set of new and stronger batteries, continuing replacement work that began a week ago.

It wasn’t the team NASA envisioned. Koch was supposed to go out with astronaut Anne McClain for the first all-female spacewalk. But the lineup was changed because there weren’t two medium suits readily available for the women. After NASA took heat for the switch, McClain explained that the decision was based on her recommendation.

“Safety of the crew and execution of the mission come first,” McClain, an Army aviator, said via Twitter this week.

astronauts, station batteries
NASA’s Christina Koch and Nick Hague successfully installed a set of new and stronger batteries, continuing replacement work that began a week ago. Pixabay

Koch – the 14th woman to conduct a spacewalk – arrived at the space station two weeks ago along with Hague. McClain, who last week became the 13th female spacewalker, has been on board since December. More than 200 men have walked in space.

The space station’s outdated nickel-hydrogen batteries are being replaced with lithium-ion batteries, a lengthy process spanning years. These batteries store power collected by the solar wings and keep the outpost running when it’s on the night side of Earth. The big robot arm at the space station took care of the heavy lifting in advance, removing the old batteries and placing the new ones in the empty slots earlier this week.

Besides attaching three fresh batteries, Koch and Hague disconnected one of the three installed last week because of higher voltage than expected. It will be replaced by two old-style batteries until a spare arrives. Running ahead the whole time, the astronauts even squeezed in some extra chores before their 6 {-hour spacewalk ended.

“Everybody’s very impressed by how much we achieved today,” Mission Control radioed. “You guys rock.”

astronauts, station batteries
Running ahead the whole time, the astronauts even squeezed in some extra chores before their 6 {-hour spacewalk ended. VOA

McClain pulled out of Friday’s spacewalk when she realized that the medium suit she used last week fit her best; she was supposed to switch to a large. Koch also takes a medium. While another medium spacesuit top is available, it would have taken 12 hours to get it ready – time NASA did not want to spend given all the other station activity.

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“It’s safer & faster to change spacewalker assignments than reconfigure spacesuits,” NASA explained via Twitter. All first-time space fliers, McClain, Koch and Hague are members of NASA’s Astronaut Class of 2013, the first to include equal numbers of women and men.

A third spacewalk is planned for April 8; McClain will go out with Canadian David Saint-Jacques. The 250-mile-high station is also home to two Russians. (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)