Russian and US flight controllers decided to cut short a spacewalk by two cosmonauts outside the International Space Station yesterday after voltage fluctuations in Oleg Artemyev’s Orlan spacesuit caused concern. About halfway into a scheduled seven-hour EVA, Artemeyev was repeatedly ordered to drop what he was working on and return to ISS’s airlock.
“Drop everything and start going back right away,” was one of the translated messages heard during a NASA livestream of the spacewalk. “Oleg, you must return to the airlock as soon as possible because if you lose power, it is not only the pumps and the fan, you will lose comm. You have to go back.”
After some tense minutes, Artemyev was able to re-enter the Poisk airlock and Mission Control-Moscow instructed Artemyev to connect his suit up to internal power.
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Fellow cosmonaut Denis Matveev remained outside the ISS for more than an hour until flight controllers decided to end the spacewalk completely. A Russian translator said on the livestream that Artemyev jokingly told flight controllers that he felt “better than when he started the spacewalk” after returning to the ISS. One of the cosmonauts also joked: “I think we need some solar panels on the Orlan so we can recharge on the EVA.”
The spacewalk ended after 4 hours.
NASA officials said during the live broadcast that Artemyev was never in any danger. But as previous problems on spacewalks have emphasized – such as water quickly filling astronaut Luca Parmitano’s spacesuit during a spacewalk in 2013 — any issue with a spacesuit means urgent action should be taken. Any spacesuit problem in the unforgiving environment of space can quickly get out of control.
During the spacewalk, Artemyev and Matveev had installed one camera on the European Robotic Arm, which is affixed to the space station’s exterior on the Russian Nauka lab module. They were working to install a second camera when monitors indicated the voltage fluctuations in Artemyev’s spacesuit.
Artemyev is the ISS Expedition 67 Commander. This was the seventh spacewalk for Artemyev and the third for Matveev. Both cosmonauts were wearing Russian-made Orlan spacesuits. US and European astronauts use US-made Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) spacesuits onboard the ISS for spacewalks.
Both types of suits are designed to be entirely self-contained, providing all the communications equipment, ventilation, and most importantly enough air and pressure for the spacewalkers to breathe for at least seven hours. In the lifetime of the ISS, more than 250 spacewalks have been conducted for construction, maintenance and science outside the orbiting laboratory since 1998 when the first segment of the ISS launched, the Russian Zarya Control Module.
More info: NASA ISS blog