Today, two astronauts will be conducting a fairly standard spacewalk on the outside of the International Space Station, but the pair of spacewalkers is a bit unusual. The duo consists of cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev of Russia’s Roscosmos and Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency, spacefarers from two countries that do not typically conduct spacewalks together.
The timing of the spacewalk comes amid strained relations between Russia and the European Union over the former’s decision to invade Ukraine. The invasion hasn’t had a significant impact on operations on the ISS, as NASA, the European Space Agency, and Roscosmos have continued to work together — in space and on Earth — to keep the space station running.
Cristoforetti and Artemyev have a jam-packed spacewalk today. They are tasked with installing platforms and adapter hardware on the outside of the new Russian Nauka module, which launched to the space station last year (and had a dramatic debut). The goal is to help get the Nauka module’s European Robotic Arm up and running, which will be used to grab hold of equipment and other items that need to be moved on the outside of the ISS.
On top of installing equipment, Cristoforetti and Artemyev will also move the external control panel for the robotic arm and tinker with its insulation. Cristoforetti will also replace a window on the camera mounted on the arm to make sure it’s clear enough for laser light to shine through. They’ll also be deploying 10 nanosatellites “designed to collect radio electronics data during the spacewalk,” according to NASA. They’ll also be extending a telescopic boom on the outside of the station that will be used to help with future spacewalks.
Today’s spacewalk will make some small history, too. Cristoforetti and Artemyev will both be wearing Russian spacesuits, but Cristoforetti can be identified by a set of blue stripes on her suit, while Artemyev will have a set of red stripes. This is just the fourth time a European will conduct a spacewalk in a Russian spacesuit, NASA says. It’s also the first spacewalk for Cristoforetti, and she will become the first European woman to conduct a spacewalk today, according to the ESA.
The pair were slated to get started on their work around 10AM ET. NASA plans to stream coverage of the six-and-a-half-hour spacewalk today, giving viewers a chance to watch this unlikely duo in action.