Turning the Page to the Next Chapter of Human Spaceflight - Part 5
Welcome to Part 5, the final post in this behind the scenes look at the historic mission of STS-135, and the conclusion of my reflection about the mission’s only spacewalk.
The Beast, Continued
STS-135 Spacewalk (EVA)
With my feet strapped to the end of the Canadarm, the Space Station's robotic arm, I grabbed a 1,500 pound pump from its storage place outside the station, and then, holding this beast, was "flown" by the robotic arm over to Atlantis’ payload bay where Mike Fossum was waiting.
Doug Hurley grabbed this shot.
On the way over to Atlantis’ payload bay, I experienced something that probably got the attention of my flight surgeon, Dr. Paul Stoner, as he was monitoring my vital signs from Earth.
Suddenly, I felt a “clunk” below the plate that secured my feet to the robotic arm. I thought for a second that the footplate might have broken off, which would mean I was floating off into space holding this 1,500 pound pump/beast. Without any visual reference, it was virtually impossible for me to determine if I was still attached to the arm.
The only thing to indicate that I was still connected, was that someone would have said something if I was not. I think that as the motion of the arm either started or stopped, the mass of the pump caused the footplate to “bend” one way or another. The mechanism is designed to bend slightly in response to large loads, and it appears it did exactly what it was designed to do.
Once I realized I wasn’t hurtling off into the far reaches of the solar system, it occurred to me that I had been flown on the Space Station’s robotic arm by two members of the same family - Karen Nyberg on STS-124, and now Doug Hurley on STS-135. Since Doug and Karen are married, I radioed Doug, “Hey I just realized that I’m the first astronaut in history to be flown on the arm by all astronaut members of the Nyberg-Hurley family.”
After Mike and I installed the pump onto to a carrier frame on Space Shuttle Atlantis, we switched places. I hopped off the robotic arm, and Mike got on as he grabbed an experiment that was being moved out of the payload bay for installation on the Space Station.
Climbing in Space
I then had to leave Atlantis’ payload bay the hard way - under my own power. We call it spacewalking, but you really don't use legs and feet for much. Transportation is by your own hands and arms as you “climb” from one place to the next.
As I was ready to leave Space Shuttle Atlantis’ payload bay, I knew that it was the last time anyone would do this. Emotion hit as I thought about the thousands of people who have designed, built, maintained, managed and loved these amazing flying machines.
After I helped Mike install an experiment on the outside of the Space Station's U.S. Laboratory, I headed out to the end of the starboard truss that holds the station’s massive solar arrays. My task was to install an experiment designed to measure the effects of the space environment on different materials. Since I had to place this experiment on the top of the truss, it gave me the opportunity to take some great pictures of the space station and Atlantis from front to back using a camera with a wide-angle lens.
Watching the Sun Rise
At about six and a half hours into the spacewalk, all of our tasks plus some extras were complete. It was time to go inside. I was already back in the airlock with all our tools and equipment secured, when Mike suggested I come back outside. With just five minutes until the next sunrise (there are sixteen each day in orbit), we would watch it together.
So, I exited the Space Station one more time. Mike and I just hung on the bottom of the airlock and watched as the sun rose behind the curved horizon of the Earth. We watched as the Earth, the Sky, the International Space Station and Space Shuttle Atlantis rapidly reflected what seemed to be the entire spectrum of colors.
As the sun's rays hit the surface of the Space Station, it's silver exterior turned black then pale grey. The surface then became a luminescing blue, giving the impression that the station was frigidly cold. In a couple of seconds the colors changed to yellow then orange and then exploded into a bright white as the Sun peaked above the atmosphere before changing back to silver. It was almost as if I could see the temperature changing. Seeing the rapid changes in the color of the Earth’s atmosphere reflected off the Space Station was as breathtakingly beautiful as you can imagine.
When the Sun was fully up, Mike and I reluctantly called it a day and went back inside the airlock. After closing the hatch we equalized the air pressure, and then we were pulled back inside by our crewmates.
Walking in space is awe-inspiring and it is tremendous human achievement. It was a personal honor and privilege to have taken part in the only spacewalk of STS-135 - as we turn the page to the next chapters of human spaceflight. And there will be many.
The Work Continues
Tomorrow, Sergei and Sasha will head outside for six hours of work on the Russian segment of the Space Station. During this time, Andrei and I will be locked in the MRM-2 module (our Soyuz spacecraft is docked to this Mini Research Module). This is to prevent Andrei and me from becoming separated from our Soyuz in the event of an emergency situation. The EVA should be very exciting. Sergei and Sasha are even going to launch a satellite by throwing it out into space. It will be fun to celebrate their successful spacewalk, and to compare notes.
And the dream lives on.