UK & World News

  • 22 December 2013, 12:38

Astronaut's Suit Problem Delays Next Spacewalk

Nasa has been forced to delay a spacewalk needed for urgent repairs after a new problem emerged with a US astronaut's spacesuit.

The decision to change the next outing on the International Space Station (ISS) from Monday to Tuesday will give the crew time to prepare a backup suit for Rick Mastracchio, the agency said.

A "configuration issue" emerged on Saturday after he re-entered the ISS airlock following the first phase to replace a broken cooling pump at the base.

Water may have entered the suit's sublimator - a device that helps to get rid of excess heat.

It could have been caused by Mr Mastracchio, 53, inadvertently turning on a water switch in the airlock for a couple of seconds.

It was not believed to be the same type of issue that caused a dangerous water leak in the helmet of Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano in July.

That was traced to contamination in a fan pump separator that circulates water and air in the suit and removes moisture from air.

The first spacewalk by Mr Mastracchio and fellow US astronaut Mike Hopkins lasted five and a half hours on Saturday - an hour earlier than planned.

They carried out their key task - disconnecting the old cooling pump which is about the size of a refrigerator.

They were also able to remove it from its pallet, which had been scheduled for Monday.

Mr Hopkins, 44, wore Mr Parmitano's spacesuit, but it had been fitted with a new fan pump separator.

On the Americans' helmets were homemade snorkels from pieces of plastic tubing and Velcro, which they could have used for breathing in case of another water leak.

Nasa said: "During repressurisation of the station's airlock following the spacewalk, a spacesuit configuration issue put the suit Mastracchio was wearing in question for the next excursion - specifically whether water entered into the suit's sublimator inside the airlock.

"Both Mastracchio and Hopkins reported dry conditions repeatedly throughout Saturday's activities and the two were never in danger."

They now plan to fit the new pump on Tuesday and may not need a third spacewalk if all goes to plan.

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