Space station astronauts start 3rd spacewalk in 9 days

Two U.S. astronauts stepped outside the international space station on their third spacewalk in nine days.

Astronauts Michael Lopez-Alegria and Sunita Williams began the spacewalk at 8:26 a.m. EST (1326 GMT).

"Beautiful day," Williams said. "I'm ready."

The spacewalk marked the first time three spacewalks have been conducted in such a short time without a space shuttle docked to it. Lopez-Alegria plans a fourth spacewalk on Feb. 22 with Russian flight engineer Mikhail Tyurin.

The astronauts had a series of tasks, including jettisoning two thermal shrouds that had kept a part of the space station from getting too hot but were no longer needed, reports AP.

In the past, engineers wanted to make sure that the items would not strike the station, but they have grown more comfortable with the idea.

"We've gotten more proficient in jettison analysis and understanding the safety of jettisoning," lead spacewalk officer Glenda Laws said recently. "We expect the shrouds ... to look like a large bundle of laundry."

The first two spacewalks had similar tasks, and flight controllers thought they could save preparation time by squeezing them together.

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