Italy, Russia share rare walking tour amid Ukraine tensions

An Italian cosmonaut joined a Russian cosmonaut in a rare show of solidarity on Thursday, as tensions over Ukraine continued to flare back home.

Italy’s Samantha Cristoforetti has teamed up with Russia’s Oleg Artemyev to work on the International Space Station’s newest robotic arm. The 37-foot (11-meter) long mechanical limb – contributed by the European Space Agency – was put into orbit with a Russian laboratory last July.

The newly replaced director of the Russian Space Agency, Dmitry Rogozin, threatened to halt installation work last week, raising questions about the spacewalk. After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, Europe pulled out of cooperation with Russia on a mission to Mars.

Despite the chaotic situation on Earth, the seven residents of the space station have repeatedly stressed that they are fine there, as have the flight crew in Houston and Moscow. The current crew includes three Americans, three Russians and Cristoforetti.

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Russian cosmonauts often band together for spacewalks, although NASA and European Space Agency astronauts have occasionally ventured with them years ago.

Before settling on the arm installation, Artemyev threw 10 mini-satellites on board in a radio technology experiment. Each weighs only 1 pound (half a kilogram) and rotates slowly when they are released.

The first six drifted away harmlessly, but the seventh crashed into one of the space station’s wings and sunframe. Artemyev said the contact was very gentle. NASA agreed that there were no concerns about damage.

Russia’s Mission Control agency urged Artemyev to be more careful, and his altitude has improved for the last three satellites.

The seven-hour spacewalk was a first for Cristoforetti, the lone woman on the European Space Agency’s crew. Artemyev, the station’s commander, is now a six-time cosmonaut.

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