The world has been hailing cosmonauts Alexander Misurkin and Anton Shkaplerov for achieving the longest Russian spacewalk on the International Space Station (ISS) while installing new equipment for an antenna that enables communication with Russian mission controllers. However, the antenna seems to have been pointed in the wrong direction.
While Russian space hub Roscosmos' commander of Expedition 54 Misurkin and flight engineer Shkaplerov were afraid that their eight hours 13 minutes' spacewalk on February 2 would go to waste, NASA has offered them some relief by stating, "The antenna system appears to be working normally."
The two cosmonauts had to replace the electronic equipment that had become obsolete since their launch in 2000. The equipment was originally planned to enable communication with the 'Luch' satellite network which was supposed to send video feed from the ISS. However, the satellites took 10 years to launch and the old hardware had become incompatible by then.
During the replacement, the folded antenna refused to deploy at first, and when it did, it ended up 180° turned towards the wrong direction. This is not the only unusual thing about the mission. The astronauts, instead of taking the old equipment back to the ISS, pushed it toward the earth.
Perhaps, they expected it to travel towards the earth's surface and burn up in the atmosphere. But what happened is that the suitcase-sized machine has now become space junk, along with two towels that the astronauts abandoned after wiping their spacesuits.
The cosmonauts pushed the items towards the earth's orbit to prevent 'foreign debris' from entering the ISS. Instead, they seem to have added to the bigger problem of space junk, which is man-made objects floating in the orbit of the earth. NASA is presently tracking more than 500,000 pieces of space debris floating about in space, of which 20,000 are bigger than an apple.
The spacewalk in question, outside the Zvezda service module, was always going to be a tough task for the cosmonauts. It is not easy to handle delicate equipment and tiny nuts and bolts with the bulky EVA gloves of their spacesuit. But the primary objective has been achieved. The antenna seems to be "operating and in good shape".
Ironically, it was the glitches in this mission which made it a record-breaking one. The extra time of the spacewalk was taken when the astronauts were trying to bring the antenna and the electronic box into position.
The cosmonauts involved in the mission are not newbies. Misurkin already has four spacewalks to his credit, whereas this was Shkaplerov's second such mission. Two members of the Expedition 54 crew, NASA astronaut Scott Tingle and Japanese astronaut Norishige Kanai, are set to take another spacewalk on February 15 to work further on the Canadarm2, the Canadian robotic arm of the International Space Station.
In another incident, cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov's antics in space became a laugh riot for viewers. The 45-year-old showed off some cool stunts on a vacuum cleaner at the International Space Station (ISS). The hilarious slow-motion video was posted on social media and immediately went viral. Shkaplerov is seen stretching his arms like Superman with the tunes of R Kelly's I Believe I Can Fly playing in the background. At one point, he even turns to face the camera and salute. Although cosmonauts have to handle tough missions all the time in space, it seems like they have not lost their epic sense of humor.