Spacesuit Water Leak Cuts Short Spacewalk
In live footage from NASA TV, space station commander Scott Kelly can be seen helping to dry fellow NASA astronaut Tim Kopra after he experienced a water leak during extravehicular activity on Friday. This was British astronaut Tim Peake's (right) first spacewalk, a historic event for the UK Space Agency.
On Tuesday (Oct. 7), NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman and European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst ventured outside of the International Space Station to carry out some clean-up work left over from a December emergency spacewalk and to begin tackling an electrical wiring project. The duo, both spacewalk rookies, completed all their assigned tasks in 6 hours and 13 minutes. During their extra vehicular activities (EVA), both astronauts captured some stunning snapshots of their adventures on the space station exterior. A few are showcased here, including this out-of-this-world self portrait by German national Gerst.
All in a day's work for a space station crew!
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When working on the space station exterior, safety is paramount. Like climbers, astronauts must be harnessed to the station at all times and, in this shot, Wiseman passes a tether hook to Gerst.
Surrounded by a mass of space station hardware, Wiseman can be seen hard at work under the dazzling glare of the sun.
To distinguish between Wiseman and Gerst, Wiseman's spacesuit has red stripes, whereas Gerst's does not.
Gerst snaps a sunlit photo of his spacesuit helmet with reflective Extravehicular Visor Assembly closed.
Looking down on Earth, Gerst snapped this stunning photograph of Wiseman working on the space station's coolant system.
Gerst shows off a custom-made power drill that helped the spacewalkers tighten and loosen bolts in the vacuum environment of space.
The European Columbus laboratory module looms behind Gerst as he moves the cooling system module to a more permanent location.
Apparently unfazed by his altitude, Gerst photographs his legs that have been harnessed to the space station's robotic Canadarm2 while carrying out upgrades on the station's exterior. The camera's fisheye lens captures the station's huge solar arrays in shot.
Space station astronauts experience 15 sunrises and sunsets every day, so the spacewalkers had to work through "day" and "night" several times during their 6 hour 13 minute spacewalk. As they passed into Earth's shadow, Gerst's spacesuit lights could be turned on to help him continue work at night.
"Safe to say, this was the most amazing thing I have done in my life. #spacewalk #EVA27,"Gerst tweeted
with this photograph of him tethered to the space station's robotic Canadarm2 while moving the defunct cooling system.MORE: World Space Week 2014 Top 10 Photos: Editor's Choice
Today’s extravehicular activity outside the International Space Station was cut short after NASA astronaut Tim Kopra reported a “small amount” of water in his helmet.
As a precaution, NASA flight director Royce Renfrew decided to end the spacewalk early after Kopra and British astronaut Tim Peake had spent 4 hours and 43 minutes working on the exterior of the orbiting outpost.
The planned spacewalk was scheduled to last around 6 and a half hours and the spacewalking duo had already completed their primary task of replacing a failed electrical box before they were called back into the station. Kopra reported seeing a water bubble several inches wide appear inside his helmet and as the water was cold, it suggests the spacesuit’s coolant system may be to blame.
Space exploration is dangerous at the best of times, but when astronauts exit the protective environment of the space station, they are dependent on their space suit’s life support systems. Should any fault arise, spacewalking activity is quickly called off.
In 2013, Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano was working on the space station’s exterior when large quantities of water began to engulf his head, impeding his vision. US spacewalking partner Chris Cassidy had to guide Parmitano back to the station’s airlock before the situation became dire. In microgravity, water leaks act very differently than here on Earth and a sizable water leak could easily engulf a spacewalker’s face. Although drowning in space may sound counter-intuitive, for Parmitano it became a terrifying possibility.
"Happy to see @astro_timpeake and @astro_tim safe inside. This is how I measure success: 1) crew-safe 2) main objective-completed," said Parmitano in a Twitter update in response to today's events.
Fortunately for today’s spacewalk, the leak was less dramatic, but is undoubtedly a concern. Both Kopra and Peake returned to the space station’s airlock 15 minutes after the problem was reported and an investigation is underway as to what went wrong.
Although every spacewalk is remarkable, today’s is historic for Britain — this is the first time an "official" British astronaut has participated in a spacewalk. This was Kopra’s third.
Once the spacewalkers reentered the space station’s airlock, their colleagues were on hand to assist. Station commander and NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, plus cosmonauts Sergey Volkov and Yuri Malenchenko helped Peake and Kopra from their suits as well as using towls to help dry Kopra’s face. Kelly even used a syringe to collect the excess water from Kora’s helmet and removed absorption pads so investigators can determine the cause of the leak.
For more details behind Tim Peake’s historic mission, follow his Principia blog.
Sources: AFP/BBC News/NASA TV/ESA