This week, the crewmembers worked closely with specialists at the Russian Mission Control Center in Korolev, near Moscow, as they unpacked their Russian Orlan spacesuits, tested them, demonstrated their ability to enter the Soyuz spacecraft from Pirs while wearing the suits, and completed a thorough review of the spacewalk plan. Foale and Kaleri are now shifting their daily schedule to maximize communications with Russian flight controllers through Russian ground stations during Thursday's excursion.
The tasks planned during the five and a half hour long spacewalk include the retrieval of a set of retroreflectors from the aft end of the Zvezda Service Module. Retrieval of the retroreflectors will assist the preparation of navigational data for next year's maiden arrival of a new European supply ship. While outside the Station, the spacewalkers also will deploy an experiment test bed designed to study the radiation environment and change sample packages in a Japanese materials exposure experiment. They also will change sample packages in a Russian apparatus that is used to study the residue created from Station thruster firings.
All systems on board the Station are in good condition, including the Elektron air-generating system, which was shut down for part of the week. The Elektron separates oxygen out of water to supply breathing air for the Station crewmembers. It shut off unexpectedly on Tuesday. After evaluation, the Elektron was restarted Friday morning and has been running fine since. Spare parts for Elektron are on board ISS along with other plentiful backup sources of oxygen for the crew if required.
This week, Russian specialists positively identified a piece of debris seen floating by the Station's port side on Sunday. Photographs taken by Foale and Kaleri through a window in the Zvezda module showed a bolt and an accompanying washer. From a part number that was visible in the picture, the items were identified as coming from a mechanism that held the Progress ship's starboard solar array in place during launch. Those items, which served no purpose after the array was deployed prior to its arrival at ISS, drifted slowly away from the Station and pose no danger. Russian specialists are studying how to prevent similar bolts on other ships from coming loose in the future. Plans described in prior reports for Foale to vent residual condensation from the inner panes of the main window in the Destiny laboratory module last weekend were put on hold due to spacewalk preparations. Venting that moisture, and installing a new flex hose to prevent condensate buildup between those panes in the future, is expected to be assigned to the crew's task list in early March.