July 14, 2024

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NASA cancels spacewalk due to water leaking in spacesuit

NASA cancels spacewalk due to water leaking in spacesuit

A spacewalk by two NASA astronauts on the International Space Station ended almost as soon as it began Monday morning when water began pouring from one of the spacesuits into an airlock.

“There’s water everywhere,” Tracy Dyson, one of the astronauts, reported to mission control.

That was two minutes after she and Mike Barratt, the other astronaut participating in the spacewalk, switched their spacesuits to battery power, marking the start of the spacewalk at 8:46 a.m. ET.

“I had polar flare-ups all over my eyebrows,” Ms. Dyson reported.

She scanned a layer of ice, allowing her to see ice crystals coming from the secret service and cooling module attached to her spacesuit. The connections provide power, oxygen and water while the astronauts are in the airlock. The leak started when Mrs. Dyson unplugged the unit.

“I could see the ice crystals flowing down there,” Ms Dyson said. “Just like a snow cone machine, there was ice forming in that harbor.”

Space station controllers in Houston then canceled the spacewalk. NASA said that the astronauts were not exposed to any danger at all.

The abbreviated spacewalk was the latest in a series of missteps NASA has encountered this month. Other issues included an earlier postponed spacewalk and a delay in returning two astronauts to Earth aboard a Boeing space capsule, known as the Starliner, which is making its first trip to the space station with astronauts on board.

On Monday, the leak stopped when Ms Dyson reconnected the umbilical unit. She and Mr Barratt returned inside the space station and emerged from their spacesuits 45 minutes later. Although they never floated out of the hatch, they were credited with a 31-minute spacewalk, the time from the internal batteries turning on until the airlock was repressurized.

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They were scheduled to spend six and a half hours outside. Their main tasks were to remove a malfunctioning electronics box from the communications antenna and collect samples from the exterior of the space station as part of scientific research to see if microorganisms could survive in the harsh, airless, radiation-contaminated environment of space.

For Ms. Dyson, it was the second spacewalk to be halted this month. She and Matthew Dominick, another NASA astronaut currently on the space station, were scheduled to perform a spacewalk on June 13, but that was postponed when Mr. Dominick reported “a discomfort issue in the spacesuit.”

NASA did not provide additional details about what happened. Mr. Barratt then replaced Mr. Dominic, who was already scheduled to participate in a subsequent spacewalk. “We had a suit ready for him,” Dana Weigel, NASA’s space station program manager, said at a press conference on June 18. “We decided it made sense to go ahead and use Tracy and Mike.”

NASA has another spacewalk scheduled for July 2, but those plans may now change.

The spacesuits currently worn by NASA astronauts for spacewalks are more than four decades old, dating back to the beginning of the Space Shuttle era. The space agency has hired Collins Aerospace to provide replacements for use on the space station. (Another company, Axiom Space, is developing spacesuits for NASA astronauts to wear when they walk on the moon.)

Failures in current spacesuits are rare but potentially serious. In 2013, Luca Parmitano, an ESA astronaut, nearly drowned when water collected in his helmet after the fan pump became clogged. Monday’s problem concerns a different part of the spacesuit.

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NASA managers are also still working to understand the problems faced by Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft. The Starliner spacecraft, carrying NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Sonny Williams, successfully docked with the space station on June 6. The mission is part of a shakedown flight for the spacecraft, and the Starliner’s propulsion system suffered five leaks of helium, which is used to propel the spacecraft. Impulse for thrusters. Several propulsion devices also malfunctioned as the Starliner made its way to dock.

Boeing and NASA engineers believe the helium leaks are small and will not pose a serious problem during the return flight. All but one of the payment devices now appear to be working properly after a short test launch a week ago.

However, NASA managers also decided to spend more time reviewing the data, and have postponed the return until a date in July at the earliest. The Starliner spacecraft has been approved to dock for 45 days at the space station, or until July 21. The mission was originally scheduled to last just eight days, and Mr. Wilmore and Ms. Williams have now been on the space station for 18 days.