Astronauts Kayla Barron and Raja Chari conduct a spacewalk outside the International Space Station on Tuesday for work to prepare the station for new solar panels. Photo courtesy of NASA
ORLANDO, Fla., March 15 (UPI) -- Two NASA astronauts completed a spacewalk Tuesday to prepare for the installation of new solar arrays at the International Space Station, amid tension between Russia and the United States over the Ukraine conflict.
Astronauts Kayla Barron, 34, and Raja Chari, 44, spent six hours and 54 minutes on their spacewalk, having exited the station around 8:15 a.m. EDT -- their second and first spacewalks, respectively.
Barron thanked the team of people in Houston and on the ISS that helped the two astronauts overcome difficulties that included a tether that wouldn't retract and some difficulties Chari had finding footing early in the walk.
She also noted that fellow astronaut Mark Vande Hei, who was working inside the station, had just surpassed the record for longest U.S. spaceflight with 340 days.
"I congratulate him and the rest of the team on an awesome day," Barron said over a live broadcast.
Around 1 p.m., a NASA spacewalk announcer said the duo had completed essential tasks ahead of schedule, including installation of brackets and struts that will support the future addition of the new solar arrays.
"With additional time, the crew decided to move forward with 'get ahead' tasks" for future spacewalks, the announcer said.
Two of six new solar arrays have been unfurled to power the station's electronics over the past year.
NASA officials commented on the tensions over Russia's invasion of Ukraine during a press conference Monday. Joel Montalbano, NASA manager of the ISS program, directly addressed comments on Twitter made by Roscosmos director general Dmitry Rogozin, who said Russia could suddenly pull out of the ISS partnership.
Rogozin even suggested that, without Russian spacecraft, the ISS could fall and crash into the United States.
"We work together," Montalbano said. "It's not a process where one group can separate from the other; we need everything together in order to be successful in order to work."
For example, Montalbano said the U.S. provides attitude control and temperature control for the entire station and transfers extra power and communications capability to the Russians.
Montalbano acknowledged the space station relies on Russian thrusters to raise the station's orbit. He also said NASA astronaut Mark van de Hei will be traveling with Russian cosmonauts back to Earth soon in a Russian Soyuz capsule.
"I can tell you for sure Mark is coming home on that Soyuz," Montalbano said. "We are in communication with our Russian colleagues. There's no fuzz on that."
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches NASA's third crew to the International Space Station at 9:03 p.m. November 10 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo by Joe Marino/UPI | License Photo