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Spacewalkers Whitson and Kimbrough
NASA spacewalkers Peggy Whitson and Shane Kimbrough work on the International Space Station. The astronauts had to improvise a fix to make up for a lost piece of cloth shielding. (NASA TV)

NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson set a new record for female spacewalkers at the International Space Station today, during an outing that required a little improvisation to make up for a wayward hatch cover.

One of the aim of today’s spacewalk was to hook up connections at the new location for the station’s Pressurized Mating Adapter-3, or PMA-3, which will serve as a docking point for future commercial space taxis. The spacewalk followed up on the PMA-3’s transfer from the station’s Tranquility module to the Harmony module, accomplished with the station’s robotic arm.

Whitson and her NASA crewmate, Shane Kimbrough, were also supposed to install four protective shields over the port where the PMA-3 gateway used to be attached. Things got complicated, however, when one of the shields was inadvertently lost and drifted away from the station.

NASA said the loss of the shield posed no danger to the astronauts, and the cloth cover’s trajectory put it on a track that will eventually end with it burning up during atmospheric re-entry. The spacewalkers and ground controllers worked out a plan to use a stowed-away covering from the PMA-3 to fill the gap.

“You guys came up with a fantastic plan on short notice,” Whitson told Mission Control.

With the addition of today’s seven-hour, four-minute outing, Whitson has chalked up cumulative spacewalk time of 53 hours and 22 minutes, surpassing NASA astronaut Sunita Williams’ 50-hour, 40-minute record for spacewalking women.

The 57-year-old Whitson, who’s already the oldest woman to fly in space, is now No. 5 on the overall list for cumulative spacewalk time. And by the time she comes home in June, she’ll have surpassed 534 days in space, the U.S. record for cumulative time in space that was set last September by Jeff Williams.

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