Spacewalking astronauts lose piece of shielding

Astronaut Peggy Whitson gears up to break spacewalk record today

"Shane, thank you for the words", astronaut Anne McClain replied from mission control at the Johnson Space Center. Thursday's spacewalk was the eighth in her career.

Shane Kimbrough and Peggy Whitson, setting a new record as the world's most experienced female spacewalker, floated outside the International Space Station Thursday and continued work to set up a second docking port for US crew ferry ships.

Nasa is gearing up for an intense few weeks of work aboard the International Space Station, staging three spacewalks, moving a docking port from one module to another to support commercial crew ferry ships and capturing an Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo ship carrying almost 4 tons of equipment and supplies. Williams is one of four NASA astronauts who will make the initial test flights of the SpaceX Crew Dragon and Boeing Starliner capsules.

European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet, who conducted last week's spacewalk with Kimbrough, will assist the duo in and out of their spacesuits and monitor the activities from inside the station. It has not been edited by FactorDaily.

SpaceX and Boeing are now designing crew vehicles that will begin flying people to the ISS as early as next year.

Williams has made seven spacewalks that total 50 hours and 40 minutes.

Spacewalkers occasionally lose small items like nuts and screws, but rarely do large objects slip away.

The bundled-up shield somehow came loose as Whitson and Shane Kimbrough worked to install micrometeorite protection over a spot left exposed when a new docking port was relocated.

This is the 199th EVA in station history, the fourth so far this year, the sixth for Kimbrough and the eighth for Whitson. The astronaut will serve as commander for Expedition 51 to the International Space Station next month, making her not only the first female astronaut to command a mission to the station but also the first to do so twice. Altogether, she's spent more than 500 days off the planet, also more than any other woman.

With all three spacewalks complete and Cygnus safely attached, Kimbrough, Soyuz MS-02 commander Sergey Ryzhikov and flight engineer Andrey Borisenko plan to undock and return to Earth April 10, landing on the steppe of Kazakhstan around 7:20 a.m. (5:20 p.m. local time). NASA is hoping to take advantage of an extra seat in the Russian Soyuz spacecraft that's due to launch next month and return in September. A shipment containing replacement parts needed for that spacewalk is on hold because of rocket concerns at Cape Canaveral, Florida; the delivery should have been there by now. Shipper Orbital ATK is relying on the United Launch Alliance's Atlas V to haul up the goods.