Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Spacewalk Ends Early Due to Suit Malfunction

Luca Parmitano on EVA July 9.

Today's ISS Spacewalk ended early when the unexpected malfunction occurred: liquid water began entering astronaut Luca Parmitano's space helmet. In zero gravity, droplets of water could end up obscuring the astronaut's view on the faceplate, not to mention endangering the astronaut's respiratory system. In other words, if the leak continued, there was a remote chance it could interfere with Parmitano's breathing. To be on the safe side, Mission Control and the ISS commander canceled the remainder of the EVA and got the two astronauts into the airlock as quickly as was safely possible.

Inside the Airlock module: astronauts and cosmonauts go through "expedited" airlock procedures to get Parmitano into the station ASAP. 

While Parmitano entered the airlock and began procedures there, astronaut Chris Cassidy did a quick cleanup of equipment and also moved to the airlock. Both astronauts had completed the first steps of procedures for the scheduled EVA when the emergency began. 

As soon as it was safe, the hatch was opened. Cassidy radioed that he was fine, the crew should put all attention to helping Parmitano get the helmet off.

At one point the astronauts on ISS mentioned to Mission Control that Parmitano's radio had malfunctioned, and they could no longer hear him although he could be seen moving normally through the airlock window. That had to be a real edge-of-your-seat moment. Of course, around that time, a Mission Control spokesperson on NASA TV then mentioned, for the benefit of the audience no doubt, that astronaut Parmitano was in no real danger at that time. However, the urgency of action visible on the camera, and the content of the conversation, plus the knowledge of the actual situation, made it quite clear that this was an anxious situation.

First view of Parmitano leaving the airlock headfirst as other astronauts help him move forward.

I apologize for using pictures where other astronauts get in the way of a good view, but you kind of have to guess on when to make the screenshots. There's no director of cinematography up there to block moves and position cameras. I do have to say Kudos to NASA for keeping the cameras on and letting the public witness the professional way the team of ISS  worked to solve a potentially dangerous situation. As soon as Parmitano got completely into the module out of the airlock, the astronauts began working to remove the helmet. One astronaut (I couldn't tell who by voice) told another to quickly get towels to collect the water that could be released. That was definitely a clue that there was more water in there than was safe for the astronaut.

The Helmet is off, and moved away from Parmitano.

In the picture above, Commander of ISS cosmonaut Vinogradov is helping to get Parmitano prepared for removal of suit while another astronaut moves the helmet out of the way.

Beginning the mop-up of water in the helmet. You can just barely see Parmitano, still in suit with skull cap on, past the front astronaut.

While Vinogradov moves the Suit jet pack out of the way, astronaut Karen Nyberg helps Parmitano through the steps of getting out of the suit.

At one point, Commander Vinogradov uses a towel to wipe water off of the back and top of Parmitano's bald head. Certainly at this point concern was given to watch for any signs of the malfunction so it could be repaired later. Mission Control radioed to the ISS crew to document everything and take pictures of any problematic equipment.

Parmitano hands equipment to Vinogradov.

Nyberg helps remove the gloves from Parmitano's suit.

With the safety of Parmitano assured, astronaut Chris Cassidy now comes through the airlock hatch.

With the suit midsection releases opened, Parmitano slips out from the upper torso section.

Parmitano is out of the upper section of the suit.

While astronauts helped Cassidy out of his suit, Nyberg reported that Parmitano had said that the suit water tasted funny, not like the normal drinking water supplied to spacewalkers through their replenishment system. Parmitano also reported that the midsection of his body suit was dry as opposed to the wetter back torso and neck and shoulders. Just a guess, but I'm thinking a possible suit cooling system failure.

With both astronauts safe, TV coverage ended. NASA announced the ISS crew would continue with investigations and debriefings, with a press conference to occur today around 1:30 pm MDT. 

Today's EVA was part 2 of a series of walks to help prepare the station for the arrival of a new Russian module later this year. Tasks not completed today will be left to another spacewalk later on.

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