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NASA suspends routine spacewalks due to leaky spacesuit helmet

Sunday,22 May 2022 09:40 PM IST

Washington, May 22

After finding water in an astronaut's helmet, NASA has suspended all, except the most urgent spacewalks, the agency officials have announced.

Water was found in the helmet worn by European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Matthias Maurer following a March 23 spacewalk, Space.com reported.

Maurer reported about 20 to 25 centimetres of water in a very thin layer, covering the helmet's inner surface.

Although the suit sometimes does generate a bit of water, but "this was a bit beyond what our normal experience faces. It was specifically the quantity of water that got our attention," Dana Weigel, deputy station programme manager at NASA's Johnson Space Centre in Houston, said during a press conference this week.

The agency officials said they will perform an assessment of its extravehicular mobility unit (EMU) spacesuits, which will return to Earth in July.

It means the astronauts will not be able to go outside and perform extravehicular activities (EVAs) for several months unless there is a pressing need for repairs on the International Space Station, the report said.

"Until we understand better what the causal factors might have been during the last EVA with our EMU, we are no-go for nominal EVA," Weigel said.

Meanwhile, the recent SpaceX's Crew-4 mission and Boeing's uncrewed Orbital Flight Test-2 have carried More helmet absorption pads to the orbiting lab. These may help in case the astronauts need to repair something in space before the investigation concludes, Weigel said.

"We have supplemental ... very thin kind of absorptive pads that we can put on the inside of the helmet," Weigel said. "One of them is towards the back of the crew headset, and the other one is kind of a band that goes up over the head. [It's] kind of like in the shape of a headband, but it's attached to the inner layer of the helmet bubble. And so that would offer some mitigation."

This is, however, not the first incident where spacewalks have been suspended due to unexpected water leakage.

It occurred for the first time in July 2013, when ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano experienced a severe water leak that ended up covering most of his face. His spacewalk with NASA's Chris Cassidy was cut short due to the water volume Parmitano was reporting, roughly an hour after starting the work, the report said.

NASA ultimately determined that the materials intruded "because a water filtering facility at Johnson [Space Centre] had not been managed to control for silica," NASA's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) wrote in April 2017. "As a result," the OIG continued, "silica-laden water was used in the processing of flight hardware filters that later was used in four on-orbit spacesuits."

The agency addressed the silica situation and also created backups for astronauts in case of leaks. Starting in 2014, astronauts used a "helmet absorption pad" at the back of the helmet to absorb excess water. In addition, a breathing tube was inserted in the helmet in case of water clinging to the face, as it tends to do in microgravity.

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