Mixed results for spacewalkers after time lost dealing with difficult-to-loosen bolts

Jasmin Moghbeli, wearing a spacesuit with red stripes, works with Loral O’Hara to secure insulation around a failed radio communications unit during the fourth all-female spacewalk. Image: NASA TV.

Astronauts Jasmin Moghbeli and Loral O’Hara worked outside the International Space Station Wednesday to replace a bearing assembly in one of the lab’s solar array rotation mechanisms. But the task took longer than expected and they were unable to retrieve a failed electronics box as planned.

It was the first spacewalk for Moghbeli and O’Hara, the fourth all-female excursion and the first such outing since January 2020 when Jessica Meir and Christina Koch completed their third EVA, or extra-vehicular activity.

The year’s 12th spacewalk began at 8:05 a.m. EDT when Moghbeli and O’Hara switched their spacesuits to battery power.

The two major goals of the 269th station spacewalk were to replace a degraded bearing assembly in one of the station’s two solar array rotation mechanisms and to retrieve a failed communications component stored on an external platform so it could be shipped back to Earth for repairs.

O’Hara focused on replacing the bearing assembly in the station’s left-side solar alpha rotary joint, or SARJ, which rotates outboard solar arrays to maximize energy production. Each SARJ is equipped with 12 bearing assemblies that clamp onto a rotating 10.5-foot-wide “race ring.”

While O’Hara was working to unbolt the bearing assembly, Moghbeli removed a no-longer-needed handling fixture to make way for the future installation of a roll-out solar array blanket.

She was in the process of taking pictures of the area where the new arrays will be installed when flight controllers asked her to help hold O’Hara in place while she struggled to loosen tight bolts holding the bearing assembly in place.

By the time the degraded bearing assembly was finally removed, the crew was about an hour behind schedule. O’Hara used a grease gun to lubricate the race ring while Moghbeli made her way to a nearby external camera to reposition an out-of-position ethernet cable.

After helping stabilize O’Hara while she used a power tool to tighten the bolts holding the replacement bearing assembly in place, Moghbeli floated over to an external storage platform where the failed S-band radio communications component was stowed.

She and O’Hara originally planned to remove the unit and bring it back to the station airlock for eventual return to Earth. But given time lost installing the bearing assembly, flight controllers opted to have Moghbeli simply prep the unit for removal during a future spacewalk. O’Hara assisted her toward the end of the EVA.

At one point earlier in the spacewalk, Moghbeli mentioned that she could not find a tool bag she had tethered to a nearby handrail. She was told to look for it later, but it wasn’t immediately known if she found it or if it somehow came loose and floated away.

In any case, the astronauts returned to the Quest airlock and closed out the 6-hour 42-minute spacewalk at 1:47 p.m.

“Congratulations to you both on your first EVAs,” astronaut Anne McClain radioed from mission control. “You and the whole team here safely executed a complex and international mission. Nicely done.”

Moghbeli thanked the crew’s trainers, adding “I’d also like to thank my family and friends. This is a very special moment for me, going out on my first spacewalk, with my good friend and someone I really look up to, Loral. So thank you for giving me this. … I really think it takes a village, and I’ve got a strong village.”

In a final call out to her twin two-and-a-half-year-old girls, she added: “Zelda and Estelle, mommy loves you, and I hope this is a reminder that dreams can become reality.”