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NASA astronauts make Christmas Eve spacewalk – Aljazeera.com

Two astronauts have made a rare Christmas Eve spacewalk in hopes of finishing urgent cooling system repairs at the International Space Station.

American astronauts NASA Rick Mastracchio, 53, and Mike Hopkins, 44, made the only second Christmas Eve spacewalk in in NASA’s history on Tuesday. The first was 14 year ago.

They managed to complete almost two days’ worth of work in a single outing that lasted just five and a half hours, ending an hour earlier than planned.

Mastracchio and Hopkins made swift work of their first spacewalk on Saturday, disconnecting and pulling out the old cooling pump that regulates the temperature of equipment at the orbiting space lab.

Tuesday’s spacewalk is the second of Hopkins’ career, and the eighth for Mastracchio.

NASA said more tests will be done on the new pump later Tuesday to see how well it is working.

The shutdown of one of the two external cooling lines forced the six-man crew of the International Space Station to turn off all nonessential equipment, including experiments.

Later this week, Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy will make a spacewalk on December 27 to install a pair of high-fidelity cameras on the Zvezda service module and to do maintenance on the Russian segment of the station.

‘Water leak’

Flight Engineer Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency operated the space station’s 17-meter robotic arm, which hoisted Hopkins and the new, refrigerator-sized pump module from its stowage platform to the place it must be installed.

Wakata arrived at the space station in November for a half-year stay as part of the six-member international crew.

In March, he will become the first Japanese commander of the space station, NASA said.

During the space walk Tuesday, Mastracchio wore a different spacesuit than he did Saturday, a backup that was stored at the station and was resized to fit him.

A “small amount of water” entered the suit’s cooling system in the space station airlock after Mastracchio finished the last spacewalk, NASA said.

But the US space agency said the problem was not related to the water leak in a helmet that cut short Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano’s spacewalk in July and risked drowning him.

NASA is still investigating what went wrong in that case.

As a backup measure, the astronauts are now outfitted with emergency snorkels in their spacesuits and extra pads to absorb any leaking water in their helmets.

NASA said the last time astronauts embarked on a Christmas Eve spacewalk was 14 years ago, when space shuttle Discovery astronauts Steve Smith and John Grunsfeld stepped out to install upgrades and new insulation on the Hubble Space Telescope.

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