Damage is occurring to NASA’s spacesuit gloves during spacewalks at the International Space Station. In fact, in August of 2007, astronaut Rick Mastracchio was ordered back into the the space station’s airlock when he noticed a hole in his spacesuit glove. Damage had also been found on previous EVAs, prompting NASA to call for routine glove checks during spacewalks, which led Mastracchio to find the damage on his left thumb. Holes and extreme wear is occurring to the outer portion of the palm side of the glove. The folks at NASA’s Johnson Space Center have been working on the problem, and a newly re-designed glove will be tested during the upcoming STS-124 mission, scheduled to launch May 31. Their solution?
Super-duper patches. Two pairs of gloves will be tested during upcoming spacewalks with these patches on the index finger and thumb (the grey stripe on the finger and thumb.) Those tend to be the high-wear areas, said Brandi Dean at NASA’s Public Affairs Office at Johnson Space Center. The patches are made of the same protective material already used in the glove, Vectran, but the weave of the material is tighter in the patches, which improves its resistance to damage. There’s also an extra strip of the rubbery material used on the palm of the glove to improve grip.
The gloves have several layers. The layer that’s been damaged is just the top, protective layer. The bladder layer that actually keeps the suit pressurized hasn’t been damaged. “But,” said Dean, “we still take damage to that protective layer seriously, because once that layer is damaged, that area of the bladder doesn’t have the amount of protection we want to have.”
If everything works well during the flight test of these new gloves, the updated gloves will be used on the following space shuttle mission in October that goes to the Hubble Space Telescope.
But if the patches don’t work, maybe they can try something like this: