The astronauts aboard the international space station will make a spacewalk next week to prepare for the arrival of the first cargo craft to be sent to the orbiting outpost by the European Space Agency, NASA said Wednesday.
Russian Gennady Padalka, the station's commander, and American Edward "Mike" Fincke, the science officer, will don Russian spacesuits and venture into the void outside their laboratory at 3:10 a.m. Eastern time Tuesday.
They will add an antenna and new laser reflectors to be used in the docking of the 32-foot Jules Verne, the first of the automated transfer vehicles that ESA will launch from French Guiana beginning next year.
The vehicles, or ATVs, will be launched unmanned and make robotic arrivals at the station. They are more like the Russian Progress cargo ships than the U.S. space shuttles, which make piloted dockings. But the interior of an ATV will be spacious enough that astronauts will be able to move about freely and work inside them once they dock.
Each ATV -- seven are being planned -- will be a part of the station for as long as six months before being pushed back into Earth's atmosphere.
"This will be the first major element provided" by the Europeans, said Mark Geyer, NASA's ISS operations manager.