Cosmonauts remove explosive bolt

Houston: Two cosmonauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) took a daring six-hour spacewalk to cut into their Soyuz capsule to remove an explosive bolt to ensure their safe return to Earth. During the ‘outing’ by Sergei Volkov, the station’s commander, and Oleg Kononenk, lead flight engineer, they managed to safely disconnect the bolt from the capsule, which is currently docked at the space station, said New Scientist online.

The spacewalkers also installed devices to eliminate static electricity. The bolt has an explosive blast about equivalent to an M-80 firework. During the Soyuz’s descent on two occasions in April and October 2007, the failure of the two sections to separate properly had subjected the crews to far higher gravity forces than normal. Explosive bolts have been safely used for decades on the space shuttle and other space vehicles, as well as on military aircraft.

The bolts are usually handled by ground crews and safety experts, not by astronauts or cosmonauts. Engineers were convinced the spacewalkers would be in no danger. Gregory Chamitoff, an American astronaut onboard, was inside the Soyuz in case an emergency required the two Russians to join him in the capsule, said the report.

With the NASA space shuttles due to retire in 2010, the Russian-built Soyuz capsules will be the sole means of human space transportation until 2015. — PTI

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