Spacesuit Flaw Prompts Christmas Eve Spacewalk

When the International Space Station is at its brightest, only the Sun and Moon can outshine it in the sky. Courtesy: NASA
Space walks at the International Space Station are being done to repair a faulty cooling pump that has forced NASA to shut down experiments and restrict access to some of the habitat modules. Courtesy: NASA

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.

Astronaut Rick Mastracchio holds the degraded pump module while the International Space Station's robotic arm guides the module to a grapple fixture. Credit: NASA TV
Astronaut Rick Mastracchio holds the degraded pump module while the International Space Station’s robotic arm guides the module to a grapple fixture. Credit: NASA TV

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.

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Meet the Author
Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.