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Spacewalkers at space station
Spacewalkers Jeff Williams and Kate Rubins make their way around the International Space Station as solar panels shimmer in the sunlight. (Credit: NASA TV)

NASA astronauts Jeff Williams and Kate Rubins ventured outside the International Space Station today for the second time in two weeks and worked their way down a long to-do list.

The top task was accomplished early: Williams used a power tool to retract the folding panels of a 44-foot-long thermal radiator that was no longer needed. The assembly, known as the Trailing Thermal Control Radiator, is now tucked away as a spare.

Williams also installed two enhanced high-definition television cameras that will provide sharper views of Earth and the space station, including the comings and goings of visiting cargo and crew vehicles. Meanwhile, Rubins inspected and tightened the bolts on a joint that enables one of the station’s solar arrays to rotate.

The spacewalkers took on a few additional maintenance tasks and finished up the spacewalk after six hours and 48 minutes.

Today’s problem-free outing followed an Aug. 19 spacewalk, during which Williams and Rubins installed a docking adapter that is to be used by SpaceX’s and Boeing’s space taxis.

NASA has said the commercial crew transports could start flying by 2017, but today a report from the agency’s inspector general said the timetable for trips by NASA astronauts seemed likely to be pushed to late 2018 due to technical challenges.

Williams is scheduled to ride a Russian Soyuz spacecraft back down to the steppes of Kazakhstan on Sept. 6, alongside Russian cosmonauts Alexey Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka.

A fresh trio of spacefliers – NASA’s Shane Kimbrough and Russia’s Andrey Borisenko and Sergey Ryzhikov – will be launched to the station from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Sept. 23.

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