The commander of the International Space Station (ISS) is aiming for the all-time U.S. spacewalking record as he and a fellow astronaut prepare to venture outside their orbital laboratory for the third time in nine days.

ISS Expedition 14 commander Michael Lopez-Alegria will snag the U.S. spacewalking title about four hours into today’s planned 6.5-hour extravehicular activity (EVA) to discard a series of protective ISS equipment covers and perform other tasks.

Lopez-Alegria is due to exit the ISS — the ninth of his NASA astronaut career — with fellow U.S. astronaut and Expedition 14 flight engineer Sunita Williams at 9 a.m. EST, rounding out a U.S. spacewalk triple play that began with station cooling system upgrades on Sunday and Jan. 31. Expedition 14 flight engineer Mikhail Tyurin will help the spacewalkers don their spacesuits, and monitor the activity from inside the ISS.

“They’ve far exceeded my expectations,” Derek Hassmann, NASA’s lead Expedition 14 flight director for the spacewalks, said of the spacewalking crew after the Sunday excursion.

The three U.S. Expedition 14 spacewalks are the most densely-packed series of ISS EVAs to date without a visiting NASA shuttle mission. A fourth spacewalk to stow a jammed navigation antenna on a Russian-built cargo ship is set for Feb. 22.

Gunning for the record

With eight spacewalks, 54 hours and 42 minutes of EVA work under his belt, Lopez-Alegria has nearly caught up with NASA’s current-all-time spacewalker Jerry Ross, who racked up 58 hours and 32 minutes in nine spacewalks.

The world spacewalking title is firmly in the grasp of Russian cosmonaut Anatoly Solovyev, who staged 16 career spacewalks for a total of about 72 hours and 28 minutes.

Williams has already set her own spacewalking record. During Sunday’s EVA, Williams surpassed NASA astronaut Kathryn Thornton as the most experienced female spacewalker of all time on Sunday with three EVAs and 22 hours, 37 minutes of work outside a spacecraft [image].

During today’s planned spacewalk, Lopez-Alegria will wear a spacesuit marked with red stripes while Williams dons an all-white NASA spacesuit.

Busy to-do list

The Expedition 14 spacewalkers’ Thursday tasks include removing protective thermal shrouds from a pair of Rotary Joint Motor Controllers on the space station’s Port 3 (P3) truss.

They’ll then haul in a pair of unneeded, expansive sun shades — each larger than a king-size bed sheet — and wrap them up into bundles smaller than an outdoor garbage can before tossing them overboard.

Lopez-Alegria and Williams are also slated to deploy attachment devices for a future spare parts platform on the P3 truss before heading up to the station’s space shuttle docking port on the Pressurized Mating Adapter-2 at the tip of the U.S. Destiny laboratory. There, they are to do complete wiring up a power transfer system that will allow NASA shuttles to make longer trips to the ISS by drawing on the station’s power system rather than their own fuel cells, NASA officials said.

During Sunday’s spacewalk, Lopez-Alegria and Williams completed part of the wiring work but ultimately ran out of time before they finished.

“I think the bottom line is that we probably don’t have the resources to get the whole task done,” Lopez-Alegria said as spacesuit supplies ran low near the end of Sunday’s spacewalk.

Today’s spacewalk will mark the 80th EVA dedicated to the ISS assembly or maintenance, and push total spacewalking time outside the orbital laboratory past the 490-hour mark at full duration.

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