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Docking adapter installed on International Space Station
NASA’s Jeff Williams works on the space station’s International Docking Adapter. (Credit: NASA TV)

The International Space Station now has a door that will let crews float in from the commercial space taxis that SpaceX and Boeing are building, thanks to a nearly six-hour spacewalk.

NASA spacewalkers Jeff Williams and Kate Rubins installed the Boeing-built door, known as an International Docking Adapter or IDA, with an assist from the station’s robotic arm. This was the fourth spacewalk for Williams, and the first for Rubins.

The 5-foot-wide IDA was hooked up to one of the ports on the station’s Harmony module – a port that was originally designed for use by the now-retired space shuttle fleet. Analogous to an electrical-plug adapter, the IDA fits over the port to provide a standard interface for SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, Boeing’s CST-100 Starlifter, and potentially other spacecraft including Russia’s Soyuz capsule.

The spacewalkers encountered only one slight problem with a pesky cable connector. They also set up two laser reflectors that will help guide visiting crews during future dockings.

“It is amazing that now we’ve opened up a new chapter in the story of the International Space Station, putting the front door on this for future commercial vehicles,” Williams said.

If the schedule proceeds according to plan, the first commercial space taxis will hook up next year – at first for uncrewed tests, and then for crew exchanges.

The first of two IDAs was due to be sent to the station last year, but it was destroyed along with the rest of the cargo shipment due to the failure of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket during ascent. This docking adapter was delivered by a SpaceX Dragon cargo craft in July.

Another IDA is under construction and should be ready for installation by 2018.

The spacewalkers had planned to perform some extra “get-ahead” tasks during six and a half hours outside the station – but Williams experienced a minor problem with his helmet communication system, forcing an end to today’s spacewalk at the five-hour, 58-minute mark.

The same astronauts are due to take on another outing on Sept. 1.

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