Russian cosmonauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) made time for both scientific work and patriotic ceremony during a spacewalk on Wednesday.
Before working to collect test equipment with trays of seed, bacteria, and fungi samples, cosmonauts Sergey Volkov and Yuri Malenchenko made ready to toss a data-filled flash drive overboard.
The drop has been planned for months as part of the patriotic celebrations for Russia's Victory Day, or the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two. As part of these celebrations, Russians could offer appreciation and congratulations to war veterans by texting a certain number any time between April 9 and May 9 in 2015, according to the Russian Federal Space Agency.
The Russian Space Agency, in partnership with other organizations, set up a laser projection along Moscow's Garden Ring boulevard, to show how many Russians have texted a "thank you" to the veterans, and the notes were recorded on a flash drive.
The two Russian cosmonauts read the "most heartfelt congratulations" from the ISS as part of Russia's Victory Day celebrations, but the Feb. 3 spacewalk was their first opportunity to launch the flash drive full of gratitude into space.
"There it goes," Mr. Volkov said as he released his package from a gloved hand. "Just beautiful."
The cosmonauts had wrapped the flash drive in towels to make it visible for cameras against the backdrop of the bright blue Pacific Ocean 250 miles below. The cosmonaut timed the highly choreographed drop for the cameras, and he made sure to drop it in retrograde so the bundle has no chance of flying back into the ISS.
"That's perfect, guys," Russian Mission Control responded via radio from a base near Moscow.
NASA told The Christian Science Monitor it cannot comment on activities by the Russian cosmonauts, but it has said the package is harmless and will likely enter the Earth's atmosphere in a few weeks.
The Russians conducted a spacewalk using Orlan spacesuits separate from NASA' astronauts, Paul Rincon reported for the BBC. The American astronauts are currently barred from leaving the station after a leak in American Tim Kopra's helmet forced him and Briton Tim Peake to cut their Jan. 15 spacewalk short. Spacewalks have been halted while NASA tries to correct the problem that led to a water leak in the helmet.
The cosmonauts not only collected microbes for the European Space Agency's seven-year Expose-R experiment, but also tested a device designed to apply space-resistant glue in an operation known as the Restavratsiya experiment.
This report contains material from the Associated Press.