Space station debris shield floats away during spacewalk

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., March 30 (Reuters) - A five-foot (1.5-meter) debris shield being installed on the International Space Station floated away on Thursday during a spacewalk by two veteran U.S. astronauts, a NASA TV broadcast showed.

Peggy Whitson, who became the world's most experienced female spacewalker during the outing, told ground control teams that a bag containing the debris shield floated away at about 10 a.m. EDT/1400 GMT.

NASA's best photos of 2016

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NASA's best photos of 2016
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NASA's best photos of 2016

Sunset From the International Space Station

Expedition 47 Flight Engineer Jeff Williams of NASA captured a series of photos for this composite image of the setting sun reflected by the ocean.

Photo Credit: NASA

Space Station Flight Over the Southern Tip of Italy

The southern tip of Italy is visible in this image taken by the Expedition 49 crew aboard the International Space Station on Sept. 17, 2016. The brightly lit city of Naples can be seen in the bottom section of the image. A Russian Soyuz spacecraft can be seen in the foreground.

Photo Credit: NASA

Star Trails Seen From Low Earth Orbit

Astronauts on the International Space Station captured a series of incredible star trail images on Oct. 3, 2016, as they orbited at 17,500 miles per hour. The station orbits the Earth every 90 minutes, and astronauts aboard see an average of 16 sunrises and sunsets every 24 hours.

Photo Credit: NASA

Many Fantastic Colors

The Nili Fossae region, located on the northwest rim of Isidis impact basin, is one of the most colorful regions of Mars. This region is ancient and has had a complicated geologic history, leading to interesting structures like layered bedrock, as well as other compositions.

Photo Credit: NASA

Wind Carved Rock on Mars

The distinctively fluted surface and elongated hills in this image in Medusae Fossae are caused by wind erosion of a soft fine-grained rock. Called yardangs, these features are aligned with the prevailing wind direction. This wind direction would have dominated for a very long time to carve these large-scale features into the exposed rock.

Photo Credit: NASA

Rains of Terror on Exoplanet HD 189733b

This Halloween, take a tour with NASA's Exoplanet Exploration site of some of the most terrifying destinations in our galaxy. The nightmare world of HD 189733 b is the killer you never see coming. To the human eye, this far-off planet looks bright blue. But any space traveler confusing it with the friendly skies of Earth would be badly mistaken.

Photo Credit: NASA

Aurora and Manicouagan Crater

An astronaut aboard the International Space Station adjusted the camera for night imaging and captured the green veils and curtains of an aurora that spanned thousands of kilometers over Quebec, Canada.

Photo Credit: NASA

Paris at Night

Around local midnight time on April 8, 2015, astronauts aboard the International Space Station took this photograph of Paris, often referred to as the “City of Light.” The pattern of the street grid dominates at night, providing a completely different set of visual features from those visible during the day.

Photo Credit: NASA

Stargazing From the International Space Station

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) see the world at night on every orbit — that’s 16 times each crew day. An astronaut took this broad, short-lens photograph of Earth’s night lights while looking out over the remote reaches of the central equatorial Pacific Ocean.

Photo Credit: NASA

Election Day 2016

Thanks to a bill passed by Texas legislators that put in place technical voting procedure for astronauts, they have the ability to vote from space through specially designed absentee ballots. To preserve the integrity of the secret vote, the ballot is encrypted and only accessible by the astronaut and the county clerk responsible for casting it.

Photo Credit: NASA

Fiery South Atlantic Sunset

An astronaut aboard the International Space Station photographed a sunset that looks like a vast sheet of flame. With Earth’s surface already in darkness, the setting sun, the cloud masses, and the sideways viewing angle make a powerful image of the kind that astronauts use to commemorate their flights.

Photo Credit: NASA

Ring Details on Display

This view from NASA's Cassini spacecraft showcases some of the amazingly detailed structure of Saturn's rings.

Photo Credit: NASA

Hubble Takes Flight with the Toucan and the Cluster

NGC 299 is an open star cluster located within the Small Magellanic Cloud just under 200,000 light-years away.

Photo Credit: NASA

Hubble Spies Spiral Galaxy

Spiral galaxy NGC 3274 is a relatively faint galaxy located over 20 million light-years away in the constellation of Leo (The Lion).

Photo Credit: NASA

Practicing Orion Spacecraft Recovery After Splashdown

A group of U.S. Navy divers, Air Force pararescuemen and Coast Guard rescue swimmers practice Orion underway recovery techniques in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory at NASA’s Johnson Space Center to prepare for the first test flight of an uncrewed Orion spacecraft with the agency’s Space Launch System rocket during Exploration Mission (EM-1).

Photo Credit: NASA

A Trio of Plumes in the South Sandwich Islands

On September 29, 2016, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this false-color image (MODIS bands 7-2-1) showing volcanic activity in the South Sandwich Islands. Located in the South Atlantic Ocean, the uninhabited South Sandwich Islands include several active stratovolcanoes.

Photo Credit: NASA

Infrared Echoes of a Black Hole Eating a Star

This illustration shows a glowing stream of material from a star, disrupted as it was being devoured by a supermassive black hole. The feeding black hole is surrounded by a ring of dust. This dust was previously illuminated by flares of high-energy radiation from the feeding black hole, and is now shown re-radiating some of that energy.

Photo Credit: NASA

Hubble Views a Colorful Demise of a Sun-like Star

This star is ending its life by casting off its outer layers of gas, which formed a cocoon around the star's remaining core.

Credit: NASA

Infrared Saturn Clouds

This false-color view from NASA's Cassini spacecraft shows clouds in Saturn's northern hemisphere. The view was made using images taken by Cassini's wide-angle camera on July 20, 2016, using a combination of spectral filters sensitive to infrared light at 750, 727 and 619 nanometers.

Photo credit: NASA

Moonset Viewed From the International Space Station

Expedition 47 Flight Engineer Tim Peake of ESA took this striking photograph of the moon from his vantage point aboard the International Space Station on March 28, 2016. Peake shared the image on March 30 and wrote to his social media followers, "I was looking for #Antarctica – hard to spot from our orbit. Settled for a moonset instead."

Photo credit: NASA

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At the time, Whitson, 57, and station commander Shane Kimbrough, 49, were about midway through a planned 6.5-hour spacewalk to prepare a docking port for upcoming commercial space taxis and to tackle other maintenance tasks.

It was the eighth spacewalk for Whitson, who surpassed the 50-hour, 40-minute record total cumulative spacewalk time by a female astronaut previously held by NASA astronaut Sunita Williams.

SEE ALSO: 17-year-old alerts NASA about space station malfunction

Cameras on the station tracked the debris shield bag as it sailed into the distance. NASA said engineers determined it posed no safety threat to the astronauts or to the facility, a $100 billion research laboratory that flies about 250 miles (402 km) above Earth.

No other details were immediately available about how the shield, which weighs 18 pounds (8 kg) and measures 63.6-by-23.4- by-2.6 inches (162-by-59-by-7 cm), was lost.

"Teams are focused on completing the (spacewalk) and will review the events as they unfolded after it is completed," NASA spokesman Dan Huot wrote in an email.

RELATED: Images from NASA on the largest batch of Earth-size, habitable zone planets

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Images from NASA on the largest batch of Earth-size, habitable zone planets
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Images from NASA on the largest batch of Earth-size, habitable zone planets
This chart shows, on the top row, artist concepts of the seven planets of TRAPPIST-1 with their orbital periods, distances from their star, radii and masses as compared to those of Earth. On the bottom row, the same numbers are displayed for the bodies of our inner solar system: Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. The TRAPPIST-1 planets orbit their star extremely closely, with periods ranging from 1.5 to only about 20 days. This is much shorter than the period of Mercury, which orbits our sun in about 88 days.
This poster imagines what a trip to TRAPPIST-1e might be like.
This artist's concept allows us to imagine what it would be like to stand on the surface of the exoplanet TRAPPIST-1f, located in the TRAPPIST-1 system in the constellation Aquarius.
This data plot shows infrared observations by NASAs Spitzer Space Telescope of a system of seven planets orbiting TRAPPIST-1, an ultracool dwarf star. Over 21 days, Spitzer measured the drop in light as each planet passed in front of the star. Spitzer was able to identify a total of seven rocky worlds, including three in the habitable zone where liquid water might be found.
The TRAPPIST-1 system contains a total of seven planets, all around the size of Earth. Three of them -- TRAPPIST-1e, f and g -- dwell in their star’s so-called “habitable zone.” The habitable zone, or Goldilocks zone, is a band around every star (shown here in green) where astronomers have calculated that temperatures are just right -- not too hot, not too cold -- for liquid water to pool on the surface of an Earth-like world. 

This artist's concept appeared on the February 23rd, 2017 cover of the journal Nature announcing that the TRAPPIST-1 star, an ultra-cool dwarf, has seven Earth-size planets orbiting it. Any of these planets could have liquid water on them. Planets that are farther from the star are more likely to have significant amounts of ice, especially on the side that faces away from the star.

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Whitson and Kimbrough were working on a docking port that will eventually be used by space taxis being developed by Boeing and privately owned Space Exploration Technologies.

The pair installed three other debris shields during their spacewalk and fitted a temporary cover over the docking port where the lost shield would have gone.

While not a perfect fit, the cover will help protect the station from impacts and provide thermal shielding, NASA said.

Spacewalkers occasionally lose small items like nuts and screws, but rarely do large objects slip away. The last such occasion was in 2008 when an astronaut lost hold of her tool bag while struggling with a jammed solar panel.

The lost debris shield will eventually be pulled back into Earth's atmosphere and burn up. Until then, it joins more than 21,000 other pieces of orbiting trash and debris that are big enough to be tracked by radar and cameras on Earth.

(Reporting by Irene Klotz; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Leslie Adler)

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