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Why two Russians are on a space walk today

Cosmonauts Yuri Malenchenko and Sergey Volkov will release a container that has videos and messages pertaining to the 70th anniversary of Russia's Victory Day.

REUTERS/NASA/Handout via Reuters
British astronaut Tim Peake is shown during his first spacewalk at the International Space Station in this NASA image tweeted on January 15, 2015. Peake became the first astronaut representing Britain to walk in space when he left the International Space Station (ISS) on Friday to fix a power station problem, generating huge interest back in his homeland.

Two Russians took a spacewalk Wednesday to install fresh experiments outside the International Space Station and gather biological samples stuck outside for years.

First, though, cosmonauts Yuri Malenchenko and Sergey Volkov gave a ceremonial send-off to a flash drive containing special messages for their motherland.

The videos and messages pertain to the 70th anniversary of Russia's Victory Day last year. The flash drive was attached to a small bundle stuffed with towels to provide some bulk. Volkov set it loose as the space station soared 250 miles above the Pacific; the blue, cloud-specked Earth provided a stunning backdrop.

"There it goes," Volkov said in Russian as he tossed the package overboard with his right gloved hand. "Just beautiful," he noted as it spun slowly, appearing to tumble toward Earth.

"That's perfect guys," Russian Mission Control radioed from outside Moscow.

The job was added just a few days ago. NASA said the jettisoned package would pose no hazard to the orbiting lab.

With that accomplished, the spacewalkers set off to retrieve biological samples that have been outdoors seven years, and put out some new science trays. They also planned to test a new glue that might prove useful in years to come on the station's exterior.

NASA, meanwhile, is still trying to understand why water leaked into a U.S. astronaut's helmet last month.

The Jan. 15 spacewalk had to be cut short because of the problem, a repeat of what happened to an Italian spacewalker in 2013. That first incident was considerably more serious, involving much more water leakage.

The Russians use different types of suits, so the problem was not expected to resurface. As for U.S. spacewalks, astronauts will go out only in an emergency until the leakage is understood and corrected, according to NASA.

Six men currently are living at the space station: three Russians, two Americans and one Briton.

NASA cut short a planned six-hour spacewalk on Jan. 15 after one of the astronauts reported water in his helmet, a frightening repeat of a near-drowning more than two years ago, reported The Christian Science Monitor at the time.

NASA astronaut Timothy Kopra shocked Mission Control when he reported a small water bubble and a few minutes later, a film of water, inside his helmet. The US space agency swiftly terminated the spacewalk at the four-hour and 10-minute mark.

"So far, I'm OK," Mr. Kopra assured everyone. He said later that the water bubble was 4 inches long and getting bigger. "I'm doing good," he repeated.

Fortunately the incident occurred after Kopra and Timothy Peake, Britain’s first astronaut, had successfully restored full power to the International Space Station (ISS). The pair removed a voltage regulator that failed two months ago, cutting the station’s power by one-eighth, and replaced it with a spare.

The water in Kopra’s helmet was believed to have leaked from the cooling loop in his suit. Crewmates onboard the ISS waited anxiously with towels to mop it up. They planned to use a syringe to take a water sample and retrieve the helmet absorption pad to make a final determination of what caused the leak.

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