Dec. 2 (UPI) — NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan and European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano are back outside the International Space Station, working to fix an experimental physics device designed to detect antimatter in cosmic rays.
The duo switched their spacesuits to battery power — the official beginning to all spacewalks — at 6:31 a.m. ET on Monday morning. Morgan and Parmitano will spend 7.5 hours outside the space station.
“They will install a new cooling system for the cosmic ray detector attached to the station called the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer,” NASA wrote in an update.
The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer was installed in 2011. Over the last few years, the instrument has observed hundreds of thousands of positrons, the the antimatter counterpart of the electron. Data collected by the AMS could help scientists determine the mysterious makeup of dark matter, which accounts for most of the mass in the universe.
But the device wasn’t designed to last this long, nor be serviced in space. To fix the instrument’s broken cooling pumps, engineers had to develop special tools and send them to the space station.
In addition to prolonging the AMS experiment, the series of complex spacewalk missions has helped NASA astronauts gain valuable troubleshooting experience.
“The process of creating the tools and procedures for these spacewalks is preparing teams for the types of spacewalks that may be required on Moon and Mars missions,” NASA wrote. “The tools include plumbing instruments to cut into the cooling lines, new screwdriver bits and devices to capture the fasteners the astronauts remove from AMS.”