By MARCIA DUNN – AP Aerospace Writer
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — An Italian astronaut joined a Russian cosmonaut in a rare show of unity in space Thursday as tensions over Ukraine continued to ricochet at home.
Italian Samantha Cristoforetti has teamed up with Russian Oleg Artemyev to work on the new robotic arm for the International Space Station. The 37-foot (11-meter) mechanical limb – provided by the European Space Agency – went into orbit with a Russian laboratory last July.
The recently replaced head of the Russian Space Agency, Dmitry Rogozin, threatened to halt installation work last week, putting the spacewalk in question. After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, Europe withdrew from collaborating with Russia on a mission to Mars.
Despite the turmoil on Earth, the space station’s seven residents have repeatedly stressed that they get along well up there, as do flight control teams in Houston and Moscow. The current crew includes three Americans, three Russians and Cristoforetti.
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Russian cosmonauts usually team up for spacewalks, although NASA and European Space Agency astronauts have occasionally ventured with them years ago.
Before tackling the work of installing the arm, Artemyev threw 10 mini satellites overboard, one by one, in a radio technology experiment. Each weighed only 1 pound (half a kilogram) and rotated slowly as they were released.
The first six got away safely, but the seventh brushed past a solar wing and a space station frame. Artemyev said the touch was very gentle. NASA agreed there was no fear of damage.
Russian Mission Control has urged Artemyev to be more careful and his tone has improved for the last three satellites.
The seven-hour spacewalk was the first for Cristoforetti, the only woman in the European Space Agency’s astronaut corps. Artemyev, the station commander, is now a six-time spacewalker.
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