NASA conducts spacewalk as world's 1st spacewalker dies

Posted at 2:39 PM, Oct 11, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-11 15:39:33-04

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) - Astronauts replaced oversized batteries outside the International Space Station on Friday, as news broke of the death of the world's first spacewalker.

NASA interrupted live TV coverage of its second spacewalk this week to announce Leonov's death at age 85.

Leonov's 12-minute spacewalk on March 18, 1965, preceded the first U.S. spacewalk by Ed White by less than three months. He also was the Soviet commander of the Apollo-Soyuz joint space mission in 1975, a prelude to the international cooperation seen aboard the current space station.

As U.S. astronauts Andrew Morgan and Christina Koch wrapped up a successful seven-hour spacewalk, the rest of the station crew paid tribute to Leonov.

"This is a bittersweet day for all of us on the International Space Station," said Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano, who met Leonov in years past. "It is somewhat fitting that Leonov left us on the day of a spacewalk."

"Farewell, Alexei, and Ad Astra."

Five days after their first spacewalk, Morgan and Koch swiftly continued swapping decade-old batteries in the station's solar power network with new and improved lithium-ion versions. These new batteries are so powerful only one is needed for every two of the hydrogen-nickel units, which will be junked.

By the midway point of Friday's excursion, Morgan and Koch had finished installing three new batteries 260 miles (420 kilometers) up. Given the hefty battery size - about half a refrigerator with a mass of 400 pounds (180 kilograms) - the astronauts had to take turns holding each unit as they moved along the station's sprawling framework. With that successfully behind them, they got a jump on next week's spacewalk.

It was the second of five spacewalks planned this month to install six new batteries that arrived via a Japanese supply ship two weeks ago. Morgan and Koch began the outdoor work Sunday. Morgan will be accompanied Wednesday by NASA's Jessica Meir, the other woman on board.

Morgan has been aboard the space station since July. Koch is two-thirds of the way into what will be the longest single spaceflight by a woman, 300-plus days. On the fourth spacewalk of this series planned for later this month, Koch and Meir will perform the world's first all-female spacewalk.

Friday marked the 35th anniversary of the first spacewalk by an American woman, Kathryn Sullivan, on Oct. 11, 1984. The Russians beat the Americans there, too. Three months earlier, cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya became the world's first female spacewalker.

Since Leonov's feat, there have been 227 spacewalkers including 14 women.