Power Upgrade Spacewalk Begins for French, US Astronauts

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French astronaut Thomas Pesquet stepped out on his first spacewalk Friday to help upgrade the power system outside the International Space Station with new, refrigerator-sized lithium-ion batteries.

Accompanied by American astronaut Shane Kimbrough, the men switched on their spacesuits internal battery power to mark the official start of the spacewalk at 6:22 am (1122 GMT), more than a half hour earlier than scheduled.

The men's goal for the six-and-a-half hour spacewalk is to finish power maintenance work.

This includes connecting several modern lithium-ion batteries -- which weigh about 428 pounds (194 kilograms) each -- to store power for the orbiting lab as it flies in Earth shadow.

The work was begun earlier this month during a spacewalk by Kimbrough and American astronaut Peggy Whitson.

In all, 12 old nickle hydrogen batteries -- of a total of 48 on board the ISS -- are being replaced with the newer lithium-ion types as part of this month's spacewalks. Eventually, all will be replaced and upgraded.

Pesquet, 38, is the fourth French astronaut to perform a spacewalk.

He posted pictures of the space station on Facebook Thursday, showing the location of the batteries and the Quest airlock, which is the entry and exit portal for spacewalkers.

"We will get a closer look of the outside of the space station," he wrote.

"Peggy says it is even more beautiful when you are out there than looking through the windows."