American astronaut David Wolf joined cosmonaut Anatoly Solovyev in a four-hour spacewalk Wednesday to evaluate the effects of weathering on the Mir space station’s outer hull.
The excursion was marked by a succession of small difficulties.
For two hours, Wolf struggled to verify that a small hand-held tool was functioning. The device, a portable reflectometer, was designed to measure deterioration in the hull after long exposure to solar radiation and other corrosive elements.
The American succeeded in taking readings on the shell of Mir’s 9-year-old Kvant-2 module, one of the station’s oldest compartments.
Engineers plan to incorporate the assessments in picking materials and protective coatings for the new U.S.-led international space station.
The spacewalk started nearly 30 minutes late, prompting Russian ground controllers to curtail some of the activities originally planned.
Wolf and Solovyev were restricted from taking readings from the hull of Mir’s 12-year-old core module, the station’s oldest compartment.
Russian timekeepers wanted to reserve at least an hour at the end of the spacewalk to ensure that Solovyev and Wolf could tightly close the hatch on the Kvant-2 module from which they emerged.
The air lock hatch has had a small leak since a Nov. 3 spacewalk by Solovyev and Pavel Vinogradov, Mir’s third crewman.
The crew on Wednesday encountered the same problems in sealing the hatch. One of 10 primary latches on the outer hatch failed to close properly.
A series of 10 backup latches were secured and flight controllers planned to spend several hours assessing whether a leak was still present.
The rest of Mir is protected from any loss of air pressure by a second compartment in Kvant-2 that functions as a backup air lock.
The spacewalk was the first for Wolf, a 41-year-old physician and engineer who is scheduled to return on Jan. 31, after 128 days aloft.
“Wow,” gushed Wolf, who was clearly enthusiastic about the opportunity for the outing. Though he conversed primarily in Russian while outside Mir, Wolf could be heard laughing as he exchanged impressions of the heavens with his Russian colleague and ground controllers from 250 miles above the Earth.
“God,” said the American as they sped over the Middle East.
“David, do you like it out there?” asked Russia’s mission control.
“Oh, definitely,” the American replied.