NASA astronauts Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer finished a tricky emergency spacewalk to repair a computer relay box recently. Whitson and Fischer, currently on the International Space Station (ISS) were forced to do the emergency spacewalk when the computer relay box, also known as a multiplexer-demultiplexer, failed. To guard against a backup failure, NASA told the two astronauts to repair the system. The spacewalk lasted almost three hours. Whitson had to unbolt the relay box to install the spare. While Whitson swapped out the boxes, Fischer installed wireless communications antennas to the lab module.
Peggy Whitson is the commander of the Expedition 51 crew which has five people of the International Space Station. She is a NASA astronaut beside being a biochemistry researcher who received her doctorate from Rice University. Whitson is also the first female commander of the International Space Station with the mission, Expedition 16. She holds the record for being the oldest woman spacewalker, the most days of being in space by a NASA astronaut, and holds the second record for most time spacewalking. Whitson also has ten previous spacewalks. Jack Fischer is also a NASA astronaut and test pilot. This is his first flight into space as the flight engineer and his second spacewalk.
According to USA Today, there are no more scheduled spacewalks set for Whitson before she returns to Earth later this year. The Washington Post reported that the length of time for Whitson and Fischer to complete the repairs, the International Space Station circled the Earth twice. In a NASA press release, the astronauts were “never…in any danger,” because of the failed equipment. The last time emergency repairs needed to be made on the International Space Station happened in 2015, where crews on the station had to “unstick a brake handle.” In 2014, NASA astronauts Rick Mastracchio and Steve Swanson replaced another relay box that malfunctioned.
The failed multiplexer-demultiplexer would be examined to see where the failure occurred. Before the replacement, the piece of equipment had been running nonstop for 12 years. Dan Huot, a NASA spokesperson, said to Business Insider that there was “no insight into what the problem is yet” and engineers will not know until diagnostics are run on the equipment. The multiplexer-demultiplexer weigh about 50 pounds and is the “size of a microwave oven.” It helps to control the solar power panels, cooling loops, radiators and some robotic gear.
By Cheryl Werber
Photo Courtesy NASA