NASA astronauts successfully replace communication antenna outside space station

NASA astronauts Kayla Barron and Tom Marshburn spent 6 hours outside the ISS.

Two NASA astronauts installed a new communications antenna outside the International Space Station on Thursday during a 6-hour-long spacewalk delayed earlier in the week due to a space debris alert.

NASA astronauts Kayla Barron and Tom Marshburn exited the airlock after 6 a.m. and got to work replacing a defunct 21-year-old antenna. The spacewalk was delayed from Tuesday to Thursday after NASA said it had received a notification for space junk near the space station. 

A space agency spokesperson said there were "no indications this is related to the recent event" when Russia created a new cloud of space debris during an anti-missile test.

After working well for over 20 years, NASA said the antenna recently lost its ability to send signals to Earth via NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System. The antenna could no longer send data back to Earth, but it could still upload to the station.

Barron and Marshburn had the new hardware installed and working by 11 a.m. After the successful communication test, mission control cheered at the triumphant installation.

"Looks pretty good," Marshburn remarked on their handy work. "I concur," Barron agreed.

The astronauts finished about an hour early, allowing for time for "get ahead" work. Barron completed four general maintenance tasks before heading back into the space station to join Marshburn entering the airlock.

The spacewalk marked Marshburn's fifth in his spaceflight career and the first for Barron. The veteran spacewalker spent most of his EVA attached to the ISS robotic arm, CanadaArm2. European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer and NASA astronaut Raja Chari controlled the mechanical arm from inside the space station.

"Thank you for flying CanadaArm airlines today. Make sure to tip your pilots if you enjoyed the ride," Chari quipped at the close of Marshburn's spacewalk.

Both Barron and Marshburn thanked teams at mission control for their work putting together the spacewalk game plan in under a few weeks. The astronauts prepared for the job ahead on Earth before launch in the Neutral Buoyancy Lab in Houston.

Thursday's spacewalkers make up half of the Crew-3 astronauts who launched with SpaceX from Florida on Nov. 11.