British spaceman Timothy Peake and NASA’s Timothy Kopra need to replace an electronic box that failed two months ago, slashing station power by one-eighth. The breakdown did not disrupt work 250 miles up, but NASA wanted the power grid fixed as soon as possible in case something else failed.
As Peake floated out, space station commander Scott Kelly called out, “Hey Tim, it’s really cool seeing that Union Jack go outside. It’s explored all over the world. Now it’s explored space.”
The broken unit — a voltage regulator — is about the size of a 30-gallon aquarium. It’s being replaced by a spare dubbed Dusty; the spare has been on the space station since 1999.
Peake and Kopra need to make the switch in darkness, to prevent electricity from flowing through the solar power system and shocking them. They have just 31 minutes on each swing around Earth to complete the repair on the far reaches of the space station. The work site is about 200 feet from where they exited, about as far as spacewalkers safely can go.
“Popping outside for a walk” Peake said in a tweet Thursday. “Exhilarated – but no time to dwell on emotions.”
Peake, a helicopter pilot chosen by the European Space Agency, is Britain’s first official astronaut.
A handful of previous spacewalkers held dual U.S.-English citizenship, but flew as Americans for NASA. The first British citizen to fly in space, chemist Helen Sharman, visited Russia’s old Mir space station as part of a private competition in 1991.
Peake and Kopra rocketed into orbit exactly one month ago aboard a Russian spacecraft.
To distinguish between the two Tims, Mission Control used both their first and last names when calling out to them in the void. Ground controllers, at least, didn’t have any problem distinguishing the spacewalkers’ voices. Peake is from West Sussex in southeast England; Kopra is from Austin, Texas.