Astronaut Peggy Whitson became the oldest woman to set a spacewalking record on March 30th 2017. Space has always attracted the curiousness of human beings. Ever since the first cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, who first went into the space in 1961, many astronauts and cosmonauts have followed suit.
To quote the famous star trek, “space is the final frontier”.
On Thursday, when astronaut Peggy Whitson stepped out of the space station to perform a mission, she made the world record for longest spacewalks by a woman. A spacewalk means when an astronaut steps out of the spacecraft, into the vast space to conduct a mission. This was her eighth spacewalk. She floated out of the space station to set up a docking area for commercial crew capsules. These capsules are being built by SpaceX and Boeing. The process is so far along, that they can be operational as early as next year. Peggy Whitson was accompanied by her spacewalk partner Shane Kimbrough to complete the work on the docking port.
On Friday, 24th March, the port was disconnected by Shane and it was moved to a new location by the flight controllers in Houston. So, the mission for the spacewalk on Thursday, was to connect vital heater cables to the port and also install shields. These shields are installed to protect the ports from impact against the strikes by micrometeorites. This port will serve as the second among the two ports for commercial use.
Problems Faced by Peggy Whitson
During the mission, an unexpected turn of events occurred when during the spacewalk, the astronauts lost one of the vital cloth shields required for the space station. According to NASA, it is still unclear as to who let the cloth shields float away. These cloth shields must be attached to either the space station or the astronauts at all ties. The length of each shield, when unfolded is 5 kilometers and each shield weighs approximately 8.2 kilograms. Other than this, according to the astronaut’s report, the remaining three shields were installed successfully.
Records set up by Peggy Whitson
Peggy Whitson, age 57, has been in orbit since November last year. She is the world’s oldest and most experienced spacewoman with three stays in the space station. Surpassing all records before her, she has spent 500 days away from the planet which is the most number of days than any other spacewoman.
She was also on her way to break another record during her spacewalk on Thursday. The record for total spacewalking spacewalk was previously held by Sunita Williams who was also a space station resident. Her record was fifty hours and forty minutes.
Peggy Whitson is scheduled to return to earth in June but she may have to stay a few extra months in space and may end up returning in September. NASA is hoping that she could hop on an extra seat in the Russian Soyuz spacecraft. This spacecraft is scheduled for launch in April and shall return in September. Whitson is also one of the four NASA astronauts who will be making early flight tests for the SpaceX crew Dragon and Boeing Starliner capsules.