Will Spacewalks Happen On Expedition 40? NASA Undecided Due To Leak Investigation

Remember those snorkels and pads astronauts used during the ammonia pump replacement on station this past December? The new measures went a long way to helping astronauts stay safe if another helmet water leak happens, but at the same time, NASA is eager to find the cause so they know how it happened and how to prevent it.

Two maintenance spacewalks are planned for Expedition 40, but they’re not necessarily going forward yet. NASA has traced the issue to a fan pump separator, but there’s another issue, explained expedition commander Steve Swanson: where the particulates in the water came from. Perhaps they were from a filter, or perhaps from the water system itself. So NASA is reserving spacewalks on a need-only basis until more is known.

“That was the problem. Now, we’ve got to find out where that came from,” Swanson said in a phone interview with Universe Today from Houston to preview Expedition 39/40’s mission, which launches in late March. Joining the two-time shuttle astronaut will be two other people, including Alexander Skvortsov. The Russian cosmonaut commanded Expedition 24 in 2010, which experienced a similar ammonia leak to the one that was just repaired a few months ago.

Expedition 39/40 cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov during a 2010 mission to the International Space Station, when he served as commander of Expedition 24.  In the background is NASA astronaut NASA astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson. Credit: NASA
Expedition 39/40 cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov during a 2010 mission to the International Space Station, when he served as commander of Expedition 24. In the background is NASA astronaut NASA astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson. Credit: NASA

While leaks and spacewalks are the items that grab headlines when it comes to spaceflight, one of the major goals of the International Space Station is more subtle. Researchers hope to understand how spaceflight affects the human body during long-duration missions. (This will be a major focus of a one-year mission to station in 2015.) Through a translator, Skvortsov explained that the recent decision to extend station’s operations to at least 2024 will be a help for research of this kind.

“It is great that they have expanded the station until 2024 at least, and it will be very beneficial to the science programs and projects we have on board,” he said in Russian. “I hope that it will be extended even further. It will depend on the condition of the station.”

Rounding out the crew will be Oleg Artemyev, a first-time cosmonaut who has participated in precursor isolation experiments to the Mars 500 mission that saw a crew of people simulate a mission to Mars.

Expedition 39 is expected to launch March 26, 2014 from the Baikonour Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The crew will join orbiting spacefarers Koichi Wakata (who will command Expedition 39, a first for Japan), Rick Mastracchio (who participated in the ammonia pump swap-out) and Mikhail Tyurin.

The Expedition 39/40 crew at a NASA press conference in January 2014. From left, Oleg Artemyev, Alexander Skvortsov and Steve Swanson. Credit: NASA
The Expedition 39/40 crew at a NASA press conference in January 2014. From left, Oleg Artemyev, Alexander Skvortsov and Steve Swanson. Credit: NASA

Spacesuit Leak And Fist Pumps: Ride Along With Astronaut’s Eventful Space Station Mission

The big news around astronaut circles these days is the assignment of Takuya Onishi — from the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency — to Expedition 48/49 around June 2016. Onishi is from the class of 2009, and we’re guessing he’d be sure to poll his classmates on how their mission training is going.

Well, another of the 2009 astronaut class — Luca Parmitano — just returned from six months in space. It was an eventful mission, with Parmitano facing down a scary water leak during a spacewalk, using the Canadarm to berth and let go of a cargo spacecraft, and then delighting the Internet with enthusiastic fist pumps just minutes after he landed.

Parmitano speaks about the science on station (up to 150 experiments at one time!) as well as what he was experiencing during the leak:

 

“We were starting our third task, and I felt some water on the back of my head,” he said in an undated video from orbit included in the new video. “And I realized it was cold water. It was not a normal feeling. So I called ground, and that point we called to terminate the EVA.”

But he made it back safely, and looks more than ready to take on another mission in this picture. The cause of the leak is still under investigation, and NASA is holding off on more spacewalks with American suits until they figure out what happened.

Parmitano’s mission also featured a unique collaboration with teenager Abby Harrison, who broadcasted her own question-and-answer sessions with him for the astronaut to reach a younger audience.

Spacesuit Water Leak Prompts NASA Mishap Investigation

In the wake of a spacesuit water leak that sent two astronauts back to the airlock early during a spacewalk last week, NASA has convened a board to look at “lessons learned” from the mishap.

The cause of the leak, which filled Luca Parmitano’s helmet with water, is still being investigated. Some media reports say it may have been a fault within the spacesuit’s cooling system. NASA stated it plans to “develop a set of lessons learned from the incident and suggest ways to prevent a similar problem in the future.”

Chairing the board will be Chris Hansen, the International Space Station’s chief engineer at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. The other four members, who are all from NASA, include:

  • Mike Foreman, NASA astronaut, Johnson Space Center;
  • Richard Fullerton, International Space Station safety and mission assurance lead, Office of Safety and Mission Assurance, NASA headquarters;
  • Sudhakar Rajula, human factors specialist, Johnson Space Center;
  • Joe Pellicciotti, chief engineer, NASA Engineering and Safety Center, Goddard Space Flight Center.

The July 16 spacewalk stopped early at 1 hour, 32 minutes, far shorter than the crew’s planned 6.5-hour outing. All of the tasks can be easily pushed off to another time, NASA has said. The astronauts were preparing data cables and power for a Russian laboratory module that should reach the station by early 2014, among other tasks.

ISS Astronauts had to scramble to get Luca Parmitano out of his spacesuit after water leaked inside the suit, covering his face. Via NASA TV.
ISS Astronauts had to scramble to get Luca Parmitano out of his spacesuit after water leaked inside the suit, covering his face. Via NASA TV.

During and immediately after the spacewalk, NASA said the crew was in no immediate danger. A few days afterwards, Parmitano reassured officials at the European Space Agency. “Guys, I am doing fine and thanks for all the support. I am really okay and ready to move on,” he said, as reported in an ESA blog post.

Still, there was so much water inside the helmet that after a time, Parmitano had trouble hearing and communicating with his crewmates. “Squeeze my hand if you’re fine,” fellow EVA member Chris Cassidy said to Parmitano during the spacewalk.

NASA also noted there is an engineering analysis happening that is “focused on resolving equipment trouble in an effort to enable U.S. spacewalks to resume.” The board, by contrast, will be looking at aspects such as quality assurance, flight control, operations and maintenance with an eye to improving NASA human spaceflight activities in general.

NASA did not immediately release a date by which it expects the investigation to finish. Meanwhile, at least one news outlet reported that the agency is rushing some spacesuit repair tools on to a Russian Progress supply ship that will leave Kazakhstan for the International Space Station on Saturday.

Source: NASA