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Astronaut Shane Kimbrough
NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough flashes a smile for a selfie during a spacewalk at the International Space Station. (NASA Photo)

The International Space Station got a power upgrade today when spacewalkers hooked three new lithium-ion batteries into the electrical system.

NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Peggy Whitson spent about six and a half hours outside the orbital outpost to do the installation.

For the past several days, the station’s crew has been using the Dextre robotic arm system to shift old nickel-hydrogen batteries into storage and get the new batteries ready for installation. The lithium-ion battery packs arrived at the station last month aboard a robotic Japanese cargo ship.

Each battery pack is about as big as a coffee table, weighs 400 pounds and is designed to last at least 10 years. They’re made by Aerojet Rocketdyne, and provide 50 percent more energy storage capability than the packs they replace.

In addition to hooking up the batteries, Kimbrough and Whitson had to install three adapter plates, but they made quick work of it. “I’m on a roll, right?” Kimbrough joked. There was enough time left for extra tasks, including a photo survey of the station’s Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer.

After the outing, NASA confirmed that the new batteries were storing power from the station’s solar arrays as planned.

Kimbrough and French astronaut Thomas Pesquet are due to install three more of the new batteries next Friday. Nine nickel-hydrogen batteries are being replaced during the current round of maintenance. They’ll be stowed on a pallet for disposal when the Japanese cargo ship is sent down to burn up during atmospheric re-entry.

Eventually, all 48 of the nickel-hydrogen batteries will be replaced.

Today’s spacewalk was Whitson’s seventh, which puts her in a tie with NASA’s Sunita Williams for the most spacewalks by a woman. At the age of 56, Whitson is the oldest woman to fly in space. By the time she returns to Earth, she’ll have beaten NASA colleague Jeff Williams’ 534-day U.S. record for cumulative time in space.

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