Saturday, January 16, 2016

Spacewalk Ends After Leak in Astronaut's Helmet

ESA astronaut Tim Peake during his 4 hour 43 minute spacewalk to replace a failed power regulator and install cabling. Credit: ESA

NASA astronaut Tim Kopra and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Tim Peake completed the primary task for their spacewalk on January 15, 2016 before it was ended early by Mission Control Houston. The astronauts replaced a failed voltage regulator that caused a loss of power to one of the station’s eight power channels last November, accomplishing the major objective for this spacewalk. The pair ended its spacewalk at 12:31 p.m. EST with the repressurization of the U.S. Quest airlock following an early termination after Kopra reported a small water bubble had formed inside his helmet.

“These procedures did their job, the team did their job and we flowed right into a nice, safe return into the airlock for these guys,” remarked NASA’s Chief Astronaut Chris Cassidy, who took part in the July 2013 spacewalk when ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano experienced a similar, but more serious, incident.

Tim Kopra went first to the far end of the Station’s starboard truss, with Tim Peake following with the replacement Sequential Shunt Unit. Swapping the suitcase-sized box was a relatively simple task but one that needed to be done safely while the clock was ticking.

To avoid high-voltage sparks, the unit could only be replaced as the Station flew in Earth’s shadow, giving spacewalkers half an hour to unbolt the failed power regulator and insert and bolt down its replacement.

Tim Kopra reinstalled a valve that was removed as part of the relocation of the Leonardo module last year but was told by Mission Control to return to the airlock before he could start his next task, after he had reported the water in his helmet.

Tim Peake was installing new cables for a new docking system when Mission Control decided to end the spacewalk early, asking the duo to clean up their work and move back to the airlock two hours ahead of schedule.

Commander Scott Kelly assisted the crew members with an expedited removal of their spacesuits and helmets. Once they removed the spacesuits and helmets, the astronauts used a syringe to take a water sample and retrieve the helmet absorption pad to determine how much water was introduced. Engineers are already looking at data to find what may have prompted the water to form inside Kopra’s helmet.

The crew was never in any danger and returned to the airlock in an orderly fashion.

The 4 hour and 43 minutes spacewalk was the third for Kopra and the first for Peake, who both arrived to the station Dec. 15. It was the 192 in support of assembly and maintenance of the orbiting laboratory.

Teams will continue to look over data collected during the spacewalk and discuss forward plans in the days to come.


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