NASA’s Jeff Williams and Kate Rubins are planning to don their bulky spacesuits and leave the relative safety of the space laboratory in order to install a new docking mechanism on the outside of the orbiting outpost, but this isn’t just any ordinary docking system.
The International Docking Adaptor, once installed, will allow commercial spacecraft carrying astronauts to come into port at the Space Station.
This installation needs to happen soon because the private spaceflight companies Boeing and SpaceX are planning to start flying astronauts to the station under a contract with NASA as soon as next year, a first for any private company working with the space agency.
You can watch Rubins and Williams install the docking adapter in the window below Friday starting at 6:30 a.m. ET when NASA TV coverage of the spacewalk begins. (The two astronauts won’t officially start the spacewalk until around 8:05 a.m. ET, but NASA will air their prep work before that.)
The spacewalk is expected to take about 6.5 hours, during which time the two astronauts will float along the station working to secure the International Docking Adaptor, brought to the lab during a SpaceX cargo run to the station earlier this year.
This will mark Williams’ fourth spacewalk and Rubins’ first.
Once the docking adaptor is installed and SpaceX and Boeing start flying to the Space Station, it will restore NASA’s ability to bring its own astronauts to the lab from U.S. soil.
At the moment, astronauts like Rubins and Williams have to rely on Russian spacecraft to ferry them to and from the International Space Station, but once Boeing and SpaceX start flying — assuming congressional support for the program holds — that reliance will end.