LONGUEUIL, Que. — David Saint-Jacques joined select company on Monday, becoming just the fourth Canadian astronaut to take part in a spacewalk and the first in 12 years as he embarked on a roughly seven-hour mission.
Saint-Jacques' and NASA astronaut Anne McClain officially began their spacewalk just after 7:30 a.m. EDT according to the U.S. space agency, when they switched to battery power, officially disconnecting from the International Space Station.
The Canadian's spacewalk comes on his first posting to the station, which began in December.
The pair emerged about 30 minutes ahead of schedule and Saint-Jacques performed a few brief movements to get used to his suit before quickly getting underway.
The duo are expected to perform tasks including relocating a battery adaptor plate, upgrading the station's wireless communication system and connecting jumper cables along the midpoint of the station's main truss to give Canadarm2 an alternative power source.
Canadarm2 is a sort of robotic hand that is crucial to maintaining the space station, and the cables would allow the arm to make repairs in case of an outage without requiring a spacewalk.
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"All and all, a very busy spacewalk," retired astronaut Dave Williams said at Canadian Space Agency headquarters in suburban Montreal. "They have four major tasks to perform, and David and Anne are going to be all over the space station."
Williams spoke to Saint-Jacques over the weekend. "I told David, 'You're going to get the perfect tour,' " he said.
While the astronauts emerged in relative darkness, the sun came out shortly afterward, affording the astronauts some spectacular views of home.
"So they can stick their heads back, capture this amazing image and then go right back to work again," Williams said.
Nearly two decades of Canadian spacewalkers
Williams holds the Canadian record for the most spacewalks, with three for a total of just under 18 hours outside the space station during a 2007 mission. Williams was also the last Canadian until Saint-Jacques to have performed a spacewalk.
The other two astronauts to have performed the feat are Steve MacLean in 2006 and Chris Hadfield — the first Canadian spacewalker — in 2001.
Canadian Space Agency robotics flight controllers were providing support to the astronauts from mission control in Houston as Saint-Jacques slowly performed the lengthy list of tasks.
Williams said the astronauts need to take their time while in space.
"Sometimes when you watch a spacewalk, it seems very, very slow," he said. "It's important to move slowly in space because there's nothing to stabilize you .... You have to move really slowly to maintain control."
Saint-Jacques' movements were visible through his helmet camera, giving viewers who can watch live online the astronaut's perspective.
"David's doing an incredible job, moving very gracefully, using just fingertip forces to go from one place to another on the space station," Williams said. "That's the mark of a highly experienced spacewalker, already. He's been out less than an hour, and he's using perfect technique to hold on to the handrails."