Space & Innovation

Spectacular Space Station Spacewalks: Photos

Spacewalks are one of the most risky -- but amazing -- things you can do during a spaceflight.

Imagine venturing into the black wearing a spacesuit, separated from nothingness by a few layers of fabric and a sophisticated life-support system. Then imagine trying to getting a day's work done!

It's amazing that astronauts and cosmonauts have completed 193 spacewalks on the ISS since 1998, according to NASA. Here are just a few spectacular shots from recent spacewalks, as seen in this spectacular Flickr album by NASA's Johnson Space Center.

1. Floating, flying or falling?

Expedition 46's Scott Kelly (best known for doing a one-year mission in space) during a Dec. 21, 2015 spacewalk. | NASA

In this photo, you can see how a bulky spacesuit can be a little awkward when you're trying to reach something on the space station. It's been said that those gloves Scott Kelly is wearing here are akin to trying to work in hockey gloves. Also, the lower body of the spacesuit is also very stiff because astronauts don't need to walk in it.

That said, this version of spacesuit has been used by astronauts for decades and has served them well for work on the shuttle and International Space Station. Future versions of spacesuits will likely include more mobility for surface operations, such as on the moon or Mars.

2. Careful documentation

Russian cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov, Expedition 40 flight engineer, attired in a Russian Orlan spacesuit, uses a still camera on the space station's exterior during a spacewalk in 2014. | NASA

Time on the space station is so precious that astronauts are typically scheduled down to five-minute increments while working on something. Spacewalks are an extreme version of this because it's not so easy to just suit up again to head outside. So procedures are practiced over and over until they become habit. A crew member in the space station also spends their time assisting the ones outside.

When an astronaut or cosmonaut is on a spacewalk, he or she must also let Mission Control know how things are proceeding. This is often achieved by using video cameras on the exterior of the spacesuit, but spacewalkers can also take pictures to send home after the activities are done.

3. Extreme conditions

Expedition 41's Reid Wiseman during a spacewalk to move a failed cooling pump to another location. | NASA

Spacesuits have to keep astronauts and cosmonauts protected in the brightest sunlight and the dark of the Earth's shadow. Crew members outside also need to be able to see what they are doing, so they occasionally use lamps to be productive even while working in the darkness.

Spacewalkers make the work look easy, but it's not. The earliest spacewalks in the 1960s showed cosmonauts and astronauts that tethers, handholds and footholds are required to keep you from floating off while doing something important. So whenever a crew member really gets down to work, they are holding themselves as securely as possible to get the job done.

4. Helping hands

Expedition 41's Alexander Gerst during a spacewalk, with Canadarm2 in the background. | NASA

Just behind Alexander Gerst here, to the bottom left, you can see a huge robotic arm on the International Space Station. It's called the Canadarm2 and is a very flexible device. It can grab cargo spacecraft, lift astronauts and heft heavy pieces of equipment. The person handling this robotic arm has to have just the right touch to do all these different tasks.

Canadarm2 shows just how highly trained astronauts and cosmonauts need to be to qualify for a space station mission. They not only have to fly a Soyuz spacecraft, speak Russian and do normal space station operations, but they also need to know how to fix things and operate fancy equipment.

5. Dealing with distraction

Russian cosmonaut Sergey Ryazanskiy, Expedition 37 flight engineer, with the Earth behind him during extravehicular activity in 2013. | NASA

Think it's hard to work without checking your cell phone? Try floating around in space with the beautiful Earth behind you! Another reason astronauts and cosmonauts spend hours training for spacewalks -- particularly in pools, which simulate weightlessness -- is to tune out the distraction of working in an unfamiliar environment.

It's hard, however, to ignore a beautiful Earth behind you. Watching the Earth is one of an astronaut's favorite activities, and it would look especially neat when the view is only separated by a thin faceplate.

6. Your Instagram selfie has nothing on this

Expedition 45's Kjell Lindgren during a spacewalk to maintain the ISS ammonia systems. | NASA

The view is spectacular and it sure makes for cool pictures during a spacewalk. But in all seriousness, while astronauts are out there they are always alert for potential problems. They check their gloves for any damage. When working on dangerous systems such as ammonia (which Lindgren did here), they also are alert for potentially harmful crystals landing on the spacesuit.

This spidey sense for trouble helped astronauts safely manage a dangerous water leak in 2013 that came close to hurting astronaut Luca Parmitano during a spacewalk. When an incident occurs, NASA always investigates the cause and looks for a way to prevent it from happening again in the future.