WASHINGTON, Feb. 19 (UPI) -- On Friday, astronauts aboard the International Space Station will initiate the station's first reassembly in several years. The station will be reconfigured to create two new docking ports for the space taxis NASA hopes to have launched by the end of 2017 as part of its Commercial Crew program.
The first of three assembly spacewalks will be conducted on Friday by NASA astronauts Barry Wilmore and Terry Virts. While outside the station, they will begin work installing cables and communications equipment for the two new berthing slips.
Wilmore and Virts won't be able to ready the two new ports without new equipment, however. Two International Docking Adapters are needed to turn what were once parking spots for NASA's Space Shuttles into docks capable of accepting future U.S. commercial crew vehicles. The two adapters will be launched by SpaceX resupply missions later this year.
"This is quite a bit of work," Mike Suffredini, NASA's ISS program manager, told Discovery News. "Our plan has always been to have a docking capability in place and operational by the end of 2015, and we're on track to do that."
NASA is anxious to have its space taxis up and operational. Since the Space Shuttle program ended in 2011, NASA has had to rely on Russia to ferry its astronauts to and from the space station. Last year, NASA awarded major contracts to Boeing and SpaceX to construct space taxis.
The combination of space taxis and reconfigured ports will not only make NASA's ISS missions more autonomous, but also bolster their size and scope.
"They will permit the standard station crew size to grow from six to seven, potentially doubling the amount of time devoted to research aboard the orbiting laboratory," NASA officials said in a recent press release.
Friday's spacewalk will be televised by NASA TV. It will be Wilmore's second career spacewalk and the first for Virts.
"SAFER" virtual reality simulator- the jet pack we can use to get back to ISS if we floated away during a spacewalk. pic.twitter.com/Fp2tiwzpqj— Terry W. Virts (@AstroTerry) February 18, 2015