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Spacewalking astronauts repairing cosmic ray detector

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Published: November 22, 2019, 9:45am

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Spacewalking astronauts ventured out for the second week in a row Friday to repair a cosmic ray detector, this time actually cutting into the $2 billion instrument.

The International Space Station’s Luca Parmitano and Andrew Morgan needed to slice through eight stainless steel tubes, using hardware store-type bolt cutters. That will set the stage to install new coolant pumps during the third spacewalk on Dec. 2.

NASA likens the repair work to heart bypass surgery. At least four spacewalks are needed to fix the spectrometer, on the hunt for elusive dark matter and antimatter for 8 1/2 years. Without a new cooling system, the experiment — led by a Nobel laureate — would end.

NASA considers these the most complicated spacewalks since the Hubble Space Telescope repair missions a few decades ago. The spectrometer was not designed to be operated on in orbit.

A zip tie got away from Parmitano — floating harmlessly into space — as he struggled to free power cables buried in the spectrometer. Mission Control told him not to worry about it.

Parmitano, an Italian, and Morgan, an American, began the repair work last week. They spent years training for the operation before launching in July.

The 7 1/2 -ton (6,800-kilogram) spectrometer rode to the space station during shuttle Endeavour’s final mission in 2011. If successful, the repairs will keep the device working throughout the life of the station, or another five to 10 years.

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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