No place like home for the holidays? Two American astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) will be floating outside their orbiting home on Christmas Eve.
While a Saturday space walk to repair the orbiting laboratory’s faulty cooling pump was completed ahead of schedule, water leaks still plague one space-walk spacesuit. As a result, NASA is delaying a follow-up excursion by one day. (See also: “Top 5 Space Station Repair Spacewalk Dangers.”)
Over the weekend, NASA astronauts Rick Mastracchio and Mike Hopkins completed their 5-hour, 28-minute space walk one full hour faster than expected, successfully removing a broken ammonia cooling module.
That pump module went on the fritz back on December 11, when NASA saw that an internal temperature-control valve was stuck in the station’s cooling unit. (Related: “Space Station Cooling Unit Breakdown May Need Spacewalk Fix.”)
Saturday’s repairs went so well that the spacewalkers even got the go-ahead from Mission Control in Houston to jump-start some of the tasks set aside for a follow-up space walk originally scheduled for Monday.
The most dramatic part of the extra-vehicular work on Saturday came when Mastracchio, riding the end of the 58-foot-long (17-meter-long) robotic crane (the Canadarm2), unplugged and pulled out the 780-pound (354-kilogram) cooling unit from its starboard truss location. Fellow crewmate Koichi Wakata then gingerly guided the arm from within the ISS, with Mastracchio and the module still attached, moving them to a grapple fixture. From there, Mastracchio secured the module to a stowage location.
Fortunately, there was no repeat performance of a problem that plagued a July space walk: On that space walk, Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano’s helmet began to flood, forcing NASA to abort the excursion.
This weekend, however, after Mastracchio finished his spacewalk and entered the airlock for depressurization, NASA did detect an unrelated water leak in his space suit. This new leak incident has now prompted them to move back a second space walk to finish repairs to Tuesday, December 24, at 7:10 a.m. EST (12:10 p.m. GMT). This should allow the station astronauts time to set up a spare suit for Mastracchio.
NASA TV plans live coverage of the upcoming Christmas Eve space walk starting at 6:20 a.m. EST.