Behind the Wings ®
The Podcast – Episode 9

There’s nothing simple about going for a walk 250 miles above the earth!

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Today’s show is a conversation with Allissa Battocletti Noffke – a “professor of spacewalking!” Allie works for the flight operations directorate at NASA’s Johnson Space Center – NASA’s center for human space flight based in Houston Texas – where she specializes in EVAs or Extra Vehicular Activities.

Most of her work has focused on the International Space Station. Whenever astronauts need to make a repair, or check on maintenance issues, they need to exit the station and go for a space walk.  In this episode we explore what space walking is like, how astronauts train for EVAs and how important it is to make those extravehicular activities as safe as possible.

With these upcoming Artemis Missions to the moon, astronauts will soon be making new tracks in lunar regolith for the first time in about 50 years. We also discuss how moonwalking compares to space walking and what can we expect from the Artemis program. What a fascinating topic, and time to talk about spacewalking.

Key Takeaways:

  • Allie Battocletti Noffke first got interested in Space as a girl when her dad taught her about the Apollo missions. Today she is the operational lead for Spacewalk preparation on the ISS.
  • Spacewalking began in the early days of the ISS during its assembly phase from about 2000-2011, with parts flying up on the Space Shuttle. Assembly was declared complete in 2011, but it continues to be upgraded and maintained.
  • NASA had experimented with untethered Spacewalks with an MMU (Manned Maneuvering Unit); an astronaut propulsion device used on only three missions in 1984. The units were retired and were deemed too risky compared to manipulator arms or tethered EVAs.
  • Astronaut Candidates come from all different backgrounds. EVA training starts with introductions to basic mechanical skills, operational communication, and body positioning.
  • Mission control handles things like positioning solar arrays to free up time for astronauts on board the ISS for research projects, and spacewalking for missions that can’t be done done remotely.
  • Thousands of NASA Spinoff projects have come off the ISS. NASA spinoff technologies are commercial products and services which have been developed with the help of NASA, often for use on Earth.
  • With more than 20 years of constant activity on the ISS, the legacy of the ISS is about human exploration and being a proving ground for learning how to live and work in space for long durations.
  • With the ISS set to retire around 2030, commercial space stations and transport are filling in as the next generation for low earth orbit (LEO) activity.
  • Creativity is a key aspect of conduction repairs with the limited tools and resources that are available on the ISS, and without launch on demand
  • Spacewalking is a free-float, micro-gravity environment, whereas moon walking is done at 1/6th gravity.
  • The Russian cosmonauts have their own spacewalk operations and their own airlock and spacesuits. NASA’s partners from Japan, Canada, and Europe all train on US spacewalks. Overall it is collaborative, sharing tools to complete missions.

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