Created: 12/21/2013 4:22 PM
(AP) CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — Astronauts have stepped out on the first of a series of urgent repair spacewalks at the International Space Station.
The two Americans on the crew floated outside Saturday morning. They will disconnect an ammonia pump that contains a bad valve. The breakdown has crippled the space station's critical cooling system for the past 1½ weeks.
The pump replacement is a huge undertaking attempted only once before, in 2010. NASA has ordered up three spacewalks to complete the job. The next one will be Monday.
Astronauts Rick Mastracchio (Muh-STRACK-ee-oh) and Michael Hopkins will go back out again Christmas Day, if any work remains.
The six-man crew had to turn off all nonessential equipment inside the orbiting lab following the malfunction on Dec. 11. Scientific research came to a near-halt.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)