A Guide to Walking in Space

Photo: Mark Thomas

Rick Mastracchio has spent some 53 hours walking in space. Here he reveals the most important lessons for spacewalking.

Between 540 and 550 people have been into space (the exact number depends on which ruling body is counting). Of those astronauts, just over 200 have left their craft for a spacewalk or EVA (extra-vehicular activity), and only three have done so more than the nine times notched by Rick Mastracchio. The 55-year-old American has spent some 53 hours walking in space. “It’s not like in Gravity, where they jump and hop,” he says. “Actually, I watched that movie when I was on orbit last year [on the International Space Station]. I was getting ready to spacewalk and I thought it would get me in the mood. It’s very entertaining, just not realistic.” No, this is how you walk in space …

“Gravity” Trailer

1 Get nice and long

“You’re in the vacuum of space, inside a bulky pressure suit. It’s very hard to move your hands, and there’s not a lot of flexibility. So it’s good to be tall and have long arms: The more reach you have, the easier it is to do the work while you’re in the suit.”

Build up your body

“Your shoulders and forearms have to be very strong, because you’re out there crawling hand-over-hand for seven, eight hours sometimes, on the surface of the Space Station. Spacewalking is not really the right term for it; it should be called spacecrawling.”

3 Get handy with tools

“You need to know how to use tools, as a lot of spacewalking involves assembly. You’re making electrical connections, bolting things together and to the Station. If you can take a car apart, that’s a good skill set to have.”

4 Solve future problems

“You need to be able to think ahead 10 minutes to your next task and where your partner will be. Of course, the ground crew are there to help you out, but on nearly every spacewalk, something doesn’t work out the way you expected it to: a bolt will be sticky, or some connector won’t connect.”

5 Ignore your doubts

“Usually, you’re so busy working that you don’t have the time to think about all the things that can go wrong. But sometimes you have to convince yourself that if you let go you’re not going to fall off. The laws of physics say you won’t, but your imagination can run away with you.”

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