NASA solved the problems of faulty spacesuits

After completing an investigation into a serious incident that occurred during a spacewalk in March, NASA gave the green light to resume spacewalks outside the International Space Station (ISS). The next exit under the leadership of the United States may take place as early as mid-November, the space agency reported.

The ISS astronaut’s spacewalk. Photo: NASA

NASA decided to stop spacewalks after the incident with the helmet of astronaut Matthias Maurer, who suddenly had a thin layer of moisture. The investigation revealed that up to 50% of Maurer’s visor was covered with water, and additional moisture was found in an absorbent pad in the back of his helmet. This jeopardized the mission outside the ISS and the risks to the astronauts’ lives. Water samples taken from the helmet and spacesuits were returned to Earth for analysis.

No hardware failures were detected in the spacesuit, which led the researchers to conclude that the water was condensate, which was formed due to incorrect cooling settings inside the suits. In response to its findings, NASA has updated various operational procedures for such situations and added new equipment to minimize scenarios that could lead to condensation accumulation. 

Since NASA stopped US-led spacewalks in May, only three have taken place outside the ISS, mostly with the participation of Russian cosmonauts. During the next American spacewalk, NASA astronauts will continue to work on deploying new solar panels for the station as part of ongoing work to modernize the power supply of the orbital outpost. 

Catastrophic incident

For some, Maurer’s experience was reminiscent of an almost catastrophic incident that occurred during a spacewalk in 2013. Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano was working at the station when water began to appear in his helmet. Later, he described how water droplets began to get into his nose, mouth and eyes, which made it difficult for him to see and even became difficult to breathe.

Thanks to careful training, Parmitano was able to keep calm and find a way back to the airlock to a safe place. Further investigation established the cause of contamination of the fan pump inside the suit.

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