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Russian cosmonauts to activate space station’s new robotic arm

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Two Russian cosmonauts went on a spacewalk outside the International Space Station on Monday to activate a new robotic arm.

Russian cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev and Denis Matveev began their nearly seven-hour spacewalk at 11:01 a.m. ET and it ended at 5:37 p.m. ET, lasting for six hours and 37 minutes.

It was the first of two spacewalks that Artemyev and Matveev are conducting to set up the mechanism outside the Russian Nauka multipurpose module.

During Monday’s spacewalk, the duo installed and connected a control panel for the 37-foot-long (11.3-meter-long) robotic arm. The two also removed the arm’s protective covers and installed handrails outside the Nauka module.

This robotic arm will be used to assist spacewalkers and transport any items that need to be moved outside the space station’s Russian segment in the future.

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Artemyev was identifiable in the Russian Orlan spacesuit bearing red stripes, while Matveev wore a spacesuit with blue stripes.

It was the first spacewalk for Matveev and a fourth for veteran spacewalker Artemyev.

It was the fourth spacewalk outside the space station this year and the 249th overall in support of assembling, maintaining and upgrading the orbiting laboratory.

During a second spacewalk, on April 28, the cosmonaut pair will remove thermal blankets used to protect the robotic arm when it was launched last year along with the Nauka module. Matveev and Artemyev will also flex the robotic arm’s joints, release restraints and test its grappling ability.

These are the first of upcoming spacewalks that will focus on preparing Nauka and the robotic arm for future use.

Asked how the geopolitical tensions with Russia have affected life on the space station, NASA astronaut Dr. Tom Marshburn said during a Friday news conference that it’s been a “collegial, very friendly relationship together up here, and we’re working together.”

The NASA crew and Russian cosmonauts regularly share meals and watch movies together, he said.

“We rely on each other for our survival,” Marshburn said, “It is a dangerous environment. And so we just go with our training; we go with recognizing that we are all up here for the same purpose: to explore and to keep this space station maintained.”